Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

Flopping Limelight Hydrangea

a cottage garden with flowers of a limelight hydrangea flopping

Hello Fellow Readers, Lorraine from Sparta, NJ, writes, “Hi, Mary!  Hope you’re well. I have a Limelight Hydrangea garden dilemma. I prune it every spring to about three feet. It grows to a total of about six or seven feet tall and wide by August with ginormous blooms. But with the heavy rains, the stems cannot support the heavy blooms. They don’t break; instead, they bend over gracefully, but the blooms are very low or near the ground.”

Lorraine and I became friends during the time she organized the speakers for the Springfest Garden Show. It was sad when the show retired, but how blessed connections along the garden of life journey continue to grow.

a white flowering limelight hydrangea with flopping flowersCan a second pruning reduce the size of the blooms?

“Can Limelight Hydrangea be pruned a second time in late spring or early summer to reduce the size of the blooms? Mine is an older plant with large blossoms, but not as many as others I’ve seen. I recently severely cut back a large viburnum that was crowding it but also supporting it.”

The day I received her text was the day we helped Miss Ellie go home, and so I asked for a bit of time.

“Mary, I’m so, so sorry. She was a sweetie. It’s tough to be in the house after, I know. You keep hearing their footsteps and noises and feel them around the corner.”  It’s true about the footsteps and feeling Ellie around the house and gardens.

In thinking about Lorraine’s garden dilemma, I don’t think you can change the size of the blooms, though the idea of a second pruning may help strengthen the structure of the plant to better support the flowers. “Maybe prune it a bit lower? I wrote back. “The challenge is not pruning it the second time so late that it inhibits blooming. I’ll do some digging and let you know what I find out.”

a pink flowering quick fire hydrangea next to white flowering flopping limelight hydrangea

Quick-Fire Limelight (left), Limelight Hydrangea (right)

Quick-Fires vs. Limelight Hydrangeas

Lorraine sent the photos of her voluptuous Limelight’s bowing down. “You can see the Quick-Fire on the left is nice and upright. Most of the Limelight blooms are close to the ground.”

All panicle hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata) are easy keepers, as dear old Mom would say, growing in most soils though it must drain well. If yours is clay soil, then amend it before planting. They tolerate drought once established. And, because they bloom on new wood, they can endure cold winters and still bloom.

Quick-Fire, like Limelight, grows about eight-feet-tall and can be pruned into a tree form. It’s one of the first panicle hydrangeas to bloom in early July and can thrive in part sun. It starts white before turning pink then darkens to reddish pink towards fall.

Limelight’s football-shaped light green flowers bloom in late summer then age to pinkish-red and maroon. They require at least eight hours of full sun to stand tall. I wonder if Lorraine’s neighboring viburnum may have shadowed her Limelight contributing to its floppiness as not enough sun often can cause weak branching and fewer blooms.

a cottage garden with patio and white picket fence

Lorraine’s Beautiful Garden

Pruning protocols of Flopping Limelight Hydrangea 

Upon further research, the most published protocol for pruning is cutting panicle hydrangeas back by a third of their height (rather than half) in early spring. Thereby safeguarding from flopping as the new season’s growth will come from the heavier, thicker buds lower on the plant.

Lorraine wrote back, “I’ve heard a new Limelight cultivar will be available with stronger branches.” Then asked, “How are you doing?” adding the footprint and double heart emoji.

It’s true; Spring Meadows Nursery is introducing a more compact ‘Limelight Prime’ with stronger stems and darker leaves.

Losses and new beginnings are part of life…

“I’m doing fine. We’re missing our dear girl, of course, but I’ve gotten pretty good at the grieving process. I am giggling as I write as I’m not good at it at all. But losses are part of life, as is the love which remains rooted. Then there are new beginnings just like new plants in the garden of life.” Garden Dilemmas? (and now on your favorite Podcast App.)

 Link to the new ‘Limelight Prime’ Hydrangea

A previous column on When to Prune Hydrangea, Deer

Black and white photo of a woman huggin a golden retrieverAbout my Unexpected Furry Messenger 


Mary Stone, owner of Stone Associates Landscape Design & Consulting. As a Landscape Designer, I am grateful for the joy of helping others beautify their surroundings which often leads to sharing encouragement and life experiences. These relationships inspired my weekly column published in THE PRESS, 'Garden Dilemmas? Ask Mary', began in 2012. I dream of growing the evolving community of readers into an interactive forum to share encouragement and support in Garden and Personal Recoveries - seeking nature’s inspirations, stimulating growth, weeding undesirables, embracing the unexpected. Thank you for visiting! Mary
  1. Laurel Reply

    I happened upon your blog when searching for a solution for a flopping ‘Phantom’ Panicle Hydrangea. Phantom’s marketing description says it has huge blooms on strong stems and it doesn’t flop. Well, they were half right. It has enormous blooms but it is a total flopper. I did follow the pruning advice of trimming it back by 1/3. It grew nicely and is covered with the huge blooms. Everything was fine until it rained. All the branches except one are bent over and the flowers are touching the ground. I had hoped when the flowers dried, they would bounce back but that didn’t happen. I even tried encouraging the branches to go back upright but that didn’t help,

    I would really like to know if there is a pruning solution for flopping panicle hydranges.

    • Mary Stone Reply

      Hello Laurel, I never planted ‘Phantom Panicle’ Hydrangea. Thank you for introducing me to it. You did the proper pruning, but heavy rain damages the blooms that sadly may not bounce back. It reminds me of my peonies’ annual dilemma: Just when they are in full flower, Mother Nature usually decides to offer a torrential storm.

      One wonders why we garden. Because we adore the beauty and therapeutic aspects despite the challenges. Teaching us that Mother Nature is in control :^) Thanks for reading my column, Mary

  2. Susan Hubner Reply

    Thank you for the wonderful article! I am hoping you can help me with a beautiful old limelight tree that I inherited when I bought my new house. The limelight tree was pruned back by the previous owner and so this summer it had big beautiful blooms that all bent gracefully downwards after the first heavy rain. It looks like a weeping tree but I would prefer if they stayed straight! I would like to prune it just a but next spring so that the blooms are not as large and we wont have so much flopping but am worried that the current branches will “freeze” in this curved shape if I wait until then. Fo you have any advice for this??

    • Mary Stone Reply

      Hi Susan, Thanks for your kind words and for reading my story. The most published protocol for pruning is cutting panicle hydrangeas back by a third of their height (rather than half) in early spring. Thereby safeguarding it from flopping as the new season’s growth will come from the heavier, thicker buds lower on the plant. But you can’t change the size of the blooms. I hope this helps, Mary

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