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

When to Prune Hydrangea, Deer!


Hello Fellow Readers,

Deer devastation is ramping up in our neck of the woods. I woke to the swath of Bigleaf hydrangeas mowed down despite precautionary spraying using Deer Out, an organic go-to. I’ve used it for years. The devastation brought weepy eyes, which seems silly in hindsight. “No point in crying over spilled milk,” one of Mom’s many idioms often shared. I never liked milk anyway.


Darn, Deer!

They are the same hydrangeas Curt kindheartedly pruned close to the ground in early spring a handful of years ago. He confused them with the Butterfly Bush that I asked him to cut back as they benefit from rejuvenation pruning each spring. After two summers with no flowers, our old wooded hydrangeas rebounded to be profuse bloomers. Their recovery and colorful display are why I’ve grown so attached — plus Curt’s happiness over the outcome of his rejuvenation pruning. (Link to the column about Curt’s good intentions below.)

Speaking of hydrangea, I heard from a longtime friend living in Cliffside Park, NJ, near the George Washington Bridge. Deer weren’t a dilemma when I lived there years ago, but they are now. “My hydrangea didn’t bloom this year or last. I think it might be due to when I pruned them. When is the right time?”


Year two after Curt’s “unintentional” rejuvenation pruning.

It depends on the variety. Most folks have the Bigleaf variety (Hydrangea macrophylla) or my fav Oakleaf Hydrangea (H. quercifolia), which bloom on old wood. So, if pruning is desired to manage size, it should be done soon after the flowers fade; but before August 1st to assure blooms next year. Panicle and Smooth hydrangeas (H. paniculate and arborescent) bloom on new wood. Prune new wood bloomers before the flower buds form in late winter when the plant is still dormant.

The two most popular Bigleaf hydrangeas are Mopheads and Lacecaps. Rosemary’s is a Lacecap which is okay to deadhead to the second pair of leaves when the flowers fade. But the flowers on the Mopheads are best left standing. They’re lovely to admire dry, especially when frosted with winter snow.

I was grateful that the day Bambi chomped the hydrangea, she spared the Hosta that sat beside it. I resprayed everything diligently. But the next day, I found the big burley ‘Sum and Substance’ Hosta munched to the stalks. Why do we garden anyway?

It’s time to put into practice what I preach. To rotate sprays as deer can grow accustomed and chew beyond them. I gave Deer Off a try. The putrescent egg smell was a tad nauseating compared to the clove oil scent of my tried and true. But once it dried, it wasn’t bad.


Ellie was the first to find the culprit!

Late that afternoon, a doe meandered in the woods, sunbeams gleaming on her rust-colored fur. Her white tail was whisking away flies. Behind her, two youngsters were frolicking as cute as can be.

“Hello there.” The momma looks up. “Quit eating my stuff. Please… I’m asking nicely.” As I stood watching the beautiful family, empathy came over me, understanding their need for nourishment.

A newer Bigleaf Hydrangea called Endless Summer blooms on old and new wood. Indeed, there’s no point in crying over spilled milk. Garden Dilemmas?

Link to Curt’s good intentions: Spring Garden Honey-Dos


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

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