It’s Time to Prune Your Hydrangeas, According to the “Hydrangea Whisperer”

The fine gardener at the Chatham Bars Inn has four tips for New Englanders right now.

Photo by Greta Georgieva

Hydrangea season may be on its way out, but the care and the keeping of New England’s favorite flowers is not. They require maintenance even when the bushes aren’t bursting with color—and there’s one person who knows how to do this better than anyone.

Pamela Vasques is the fine gardener at the Chatham Bars Inn, overseeing the property’s 25 acres and over 6,000 hydrangea bushes. Nicknamed the “hydrangea whisperer,” she tames the plants that show off those shades of blue, purple, and pink, planting 500 new ones each year. Here are her four top tips for caring for your own hydrangea plants, even as the seasons shift.

1. Start pruning in late summer.

In other words? It’s time to get to work—like right now.

“Everybody thinks you can prune in the spring,” Vasques says. “But if you prune the bushes in the spring, you’re cutting all your buds off and you’re not going to get any flowers.”

The correct time to prune is late August into early September, she says, which is right before the buds start forming for next year. If your hydrangea bush rarely flowers, your pruning schedule may be to blame.

Pamela Vasques and her hydrangea mobile. / Photo by Madeline Bilis

2. Mind your soil type.

Many hydrangea lovers are well aware that the acidity of the plant’s soil affects the color of the flowers. Higher acidity produces blue petals, a neutral pH produces pink, and somewhere in between gets you purple. If you’d like to alter the color of your plants, Vasquez says to add aluminum sulfide to the dirt for blue, and sulfur for pink.

3. Never water the plant from above.

“Hydrangeas have to be watered from the bottom,” Vasques explains. Water from above and droplets could accumulate on the leaves. “If the leaves don’t dry, the sun will burn them,” she says. The scorched result is some gnarly brown and black leaves.

“Glowing ember” hydrangeas at the Chatham Bars Inn. / Photo by Madeline Bilis

4. Don’t forget about love.

“Anybody can plant a hydrangea,” Vasques says. “But to maintain it and shape it? And really keep it going? You really have to love the plant.”

In Vasques’s case, the thousands of hydrangeas at the Chatham Bars Inn are her labor of love. And while she loves all her plants equally, it’s the dark pink “glowing ember” variety that’s her favorite.

Here’s where to see all the best displays when hydrangea season comes back in full swing next summer.