Limelight Question

Susan SerraAugust 28, 2006

Hello, I did a search, read a lot, but am still a bit confused. I have a two part question. I don't know much about hydrangeas.

I have this limelight, it is so beautiful. It's in its 2nd year and it's huge, with huge blooms, and it's flopping all over. At the same time, I have been asked by a good friend to supply flowers from my garden for her wedding in two weeks. I'm thinking that these blooms would be perfect.

From the little I read, I think it's ok to prune limelight, that, pruning will result in larger flowers. Not pruning will result in smaller flowers. And, I think I'm reading to prune by half if desired before spring. It's really too big and flopping now, so if I prune by half (late winter/early spring), will it have more structure?

Which brings me back to the wedding question, held in 2 weeks. Maybe I should prune off blooms for the wedding, to the place where I'll be pruning them off in the spring? Also, please tell me where on the stem do I prune? Just before a leaf?

I need more structure in this plant. Will I be able to get it by pruning by half? It's all big and flopping now.

Thanks very much!!

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You could cut flowers for your friend's wedding with any lenght of the stem she need to and then re-prune the same stems to desired lenght/height in a spring.

Re: flopping.
Let's call it arching, OK?
Yours is young and thin canes can't possibly hold those huge blooms, so in a spring select the most thick of them and prune everything else coming out of the base. Try to keep 3 to 5 canes going into different directions and possibly being equally spaced. Than prune those canes in a such way that every one of them will be between 30 to 36" long. As hydrangea will be getting older, those canes will be thicker and thicker by the year, but new growth produced out of them still will be arching down. This is the nature of the plant.

Actually, by cutting flowers now you may somewhat address future flopping/arching issue.
As soon as you cut the flowers you'll see how the canes will spring back in more upright position. They are still pliable, therefore you may stake them at any angle you wish to and leave for the winter. They'll harden 'as is' and be more upright next year.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2006 at 11:59PM
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Susan Serra

Thanks for the, I only keep 3-5 canes and cut everything else at the base? Why? I like to understand the why, because then I can understand the plant better. Will the smaller canes I have now not be as productive next year, so it's better to have new growth from the bottom? I'm probably very wrong here! Or to stimulate the plant? Another guess!

I appreciate your input, thank you.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2006 at 6:24AM
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Did you say you want to establish upright structure?
Those 3-5 will be your MAIN branches for the years to come. Everything new coming from the base in a spring will be not strong enough to hold the flowers and you'll be back to square one with flopping issue if you leave them.
Work on a structure for the next 2-3 years by adding 1-2 strongest and the most upright of the new canes to those initial 3-5 and in a 3-4 years you'll have a nicely structured more or less upright plant.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2006 at 10:52AM
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silvergold(z5a WI)

Pruning will result in larger flowers especially if the number of branches is reduced. I.e. fewer flowers means bigger flowers. In addition to what ego45 says about pruning, you can also prune based on overall form and shape. This type of pruning is easier, at least for me, when they have leaves (so now) as opposed to early spring before they bud out. As ego45 mentions, the structure branches get stronger over time. Young branches are more floppy.

I don't cut my flowers so can't respond to that (my cats eat anything I bring inside so don't cut any plants for that matter).

    Bookmark   August 29, 2006 at 6:34PM
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Susan Serra

Thank you both for responding. Yes, I would like to establish upright structure if I can. The image below, just from a month or two ago now looks very different, as the canes grew larger and completely arched to all sides.

I think I understand now, but I need to write it myself. Forgive me for taking a little time to get it. I think the point is to select the strongest canes now. Cut everything at the base. Next year, do the same the strongest canes at that time, cut weaker canes at the base. The following year repeat the same thing.

silvergold, very good point about the leaves, thank you. And, I assume I would cut just above a leaf?

Am I on the right track?

Here is a link that might be useful: Limelight-now, totally flopped over (arched!)

    Bookmark   August 30, 2006 at 6:09AM
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Susan Serra

I meant to say in the second paragraph, cut everything "else" at the base, after I've chosen those 3-5 strongest canes.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2006 at 7:26AM
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I have a question after reading this and seeing the limelight photo tivoli rose posted. The photo posted shows a lovely limelight with possibly as many as 8 or 9 very strong canes. Why limit the number of canes you keep to only 3 or 5? If the canes are good and strong, why would you not keep more than 3-5???? Thanks in advance.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2006 at 7:53AM
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Huh?.....I wouldn't describe that Limelight as "floppy" at all compared to some other paniculatas. It seems to have the characteristic upright growth that Limelight is known for. I am not sure what look you're going for, but I don't think that you are going to get much more upright than that. Will pruning give the plant better form? Probably, and by virtue of cutting the small / weak stems, you will get more strong stout long stems but they in turn will have larger heavier blooms, so I don't know how much more upright it will get than it already is....yg

    Bookmark   August 30, 2006 at 9:46AM
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Tivoli, yes, that's correct.
In your particular case, two months ago you had several upright growing canes. If at that time you would of chose one strong central leader plus few others growing at the angles, staked them and let them harden in such position, upcoming spring you would of have already basis for the vase shaped upright shrub. Then you'd decide at what height you would like to see a flowers (with provisions for the arching effect, of course) and by selective pruning could create either large mass of flowers at the same height or staggered effect for the fullness.
My personal prefernce is to prune in a spring as soon as I see buds forming because in this case I clearly see the directions where buds pointing and also choose the place of cut depending on number of buds formed in that particular place of the branch. In some places you'll see a single bud, in some 4-5 and every one of them will produce new young branch that in turn will produce a terminal flower. Your choice will be based on effect you'd like to create.

madcapper, yes, you could keep as many as you wish to, but young plant has only so much energy and it's better to let it work just on a limited number of canes (that in a future become a main trunks) than on too many at the same time. In a next 3 years it will produce new growth from the base every spring and you'll have a plenty to choose from to work with. Gradually new growth from the base will be weaker and weaker by the year and eventually it will stop producing new growth from the base all together and concentrate its energy on a top growth only.
If you have a chance, look at paniculatas grown as a tree form, where only one strong leader was left and everything else was pruned off and you'll see what I mean.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2006 at 9:58AM
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silvergold(z5a WI)

On the question of number of branches, I do not reduce mine to just a few unless I am going for a tree shape. I more or less shape mine I would, as yellowgirl mentions, cut out some of the weaker small branches - the larger branches will get stronger over time. As yellowgirl mentions, though, I don't think yours is particularly floppy - seems upright to me. Just a young shrub that needs will get better over time.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2006 at 2:44PM
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silvergold(z5a WI)

Oh my - lol. I just reread my post and my grammer, english was awful. Can tell I edited it before I posted. I guess what I was trying to say is, like many things, you will get different opinions on how best to prune. I would personally concentrate on removal of weak branches and overall shape. I think the rest will take care of itself over time. I'm not as scientific about pruning as ego45 - but that is OK !!

    Bookmark   August 30, 2006 at 2:48PM
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Susan Serra

yellowgirl, as I said in the link and in the text, that image was taken at least a month ago, and now they are totally flopped, I won't even use the word arched, over. I mean totally flopped. Thus, my questions...

thanks very much for the information, I greatly appreciate it, it's so helpful, as I said, to understand the "why"!

    Bookmark   August 30, 2006 at 2:57PM
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goodhors(z5 MI)

I understand what ego45 has explained for pruning and shaping the form of the bush shown in the photo.

I just purchased a Limelight and planted it yesterday. Mine is quite small and appears to have been pruned last spring or previous fall at the nursery. All the stems coming from the roots are forked, with two or more branches going on upward. Probably at least 8 forks above roots. The forks are pretty short, 3-5 inches above the ground then newer sprouts growing out. There are some small twigs but most of the leaves are at the sprout ends. No middle growth of leaves, probably because plants were crowded. Flowers are pretty large, look like they were very nice before starting to dry out. Plant was on sale, so I thought I would try it.

My question is should I do anything about pruning bush this year beyond removing flowers when they finish drying? Should I expect any new sprouts next spring that might not be forked? I am afraid if I leave stems as they are, it will be a built in weakness further into the life of plant. That forks might be easily broken or split off in wind or winter snows is my main concern, especially as the sticks thicken with age. Thicker sticks would be a more serious injury in older bush.

I figure plant has about six weeks before losing leaves, but roots will keep growing for another month after, maybe until Dec. Our ground usually freezes late. Extra time would allow plant to do some things to help itself if pruned. However plant is newly planted, pruning too much could be more shock than it can handle, so waiting would be more helpful, safer.

Thank you, this thread has been quite interesting. I am pretty new at hydrangeas, so forum is good reading.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2006 at 10:19PM
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Don't prune it now, you don't want to encourage new growth so late in a season.
Let it be and grow the roots.
In a spring it will produce new stems from the base and you'll be working with them AND existing one.
Those 'forks' you are refering to were intentionally made by growers to promote visual bushiness/branching, but have nothing to do with a structural thing we were talking about.
Good luck.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2006 at 11:00PM
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silvergold(z5a WI)

Hi there. I was looking at my response above and it actually is a bit misleading. The only paniculata I pruned during the growing season was Preacox (which blooms on old wood so I have to) and White Moth (which blooms ver early). I was thinking more of them when I said to prune during the growing season. For the most part, I do prune in spring.

I thought it would be interesting to see what the 'experts' say about pruning. Dirr doesn't have much to say in his book , except to remove old flowers, improve structure and open the plant. He also says not to prune to stubs but instead improve the 'framework'.

Toni Lawson-Hall is a bit different. She indicates that not pruning at all is better than bad pruning...they will grow and flower if not pruned at all. She offers two options for pruning paniculata. First, to prune the previous years wood to leave only two buds on the stem. (I could never really figure out what was previous year and what was older.....if that is really what she means. Plus I have too many hydrangea to spend that much time counting buds.) She does refer to removing an entire branch if needed to control size. (The fewer the number of shoots, the larger the flower size.) She mentions that some people refer to this method of pruning as 'docking a dog's tail' and prefer the alternative method which is no pruning at all. In her book she shows examples of both.

And the link below provides a third method. Probably closest to my own. See method 2....

Here is a link that might be useful: Pruning hydrangeas

    Bookmark   August 31, 2006 at 8:46PM
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"First, to prune the previous years wood to leave only two buds on the stem. (I could never really figure out what was previous year and what was older....."

She is refering to spring pruning and 'older' wood is the one that is older than 1 year old . 'Previous year' is a 1 y.o. wood.
When she said 'two buds on a [previous year] stem' she definitely meant to say 'two SETS of buds on a stem' and that is the right approach if you want to develop strongly branched and well shaped plant. I usualy leave 2 to 3 sets of buds.
Method #2 has its own merits. If one growing paniculatas as a shrub (not a tree) in NOT constrained places where natural/wild look is prefered, then I have no objections.
However, if we are talking about gardens with more or less limited space, as most of the people have novadays, sooner or later it has to be pruned and in my opinion this shrub if shaped at young age will present much less challenge later when you'll have to deal with its loopsideness, leaning, height, width and all other related issues.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2006 at 10:40PM
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silvergold(z5a WI)

Yeah - I think the main problem I have with her description is the inclusion of 'previous year's growth'. Thanks for the further explanatin.

Regarding method 2, it is open description - just not as specific. I.e. not counting buds. 'It is suggested that one trim out crossing branches and those that do not contribute to an attractive form whenever necessry' I do follow this method and countrol size as well as shape. Reference to form means no lopsized or leaning shrubs shrub and I do remove growth to control size. With the exception of my Tardiva (lol!) I have no problems - and I think that is a different matter!!

So, just I guess there are many methods of doing the same thing. You find the same thing on the rose forum - debates over mulch, pruning, etc...

    Bookmark   September 1, 2006 at 6:12AM
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Susan Serra

Please see the images I just took this morning. Please set the size to large or original, just under the image. Then, go to "next", upper right corner, to see three more images.

I'm going to intently read what is above this post now! Just thought I'd put these in to more clearly illustrate what I was talking about.

Thanks again.

Here is a link that might be useful: First of FOUR images

    Bookmark   September 1, 2006 at 7:57AM
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silvergold(z5a WI)

Hi tivoli. There is lots to read for sure. When I look at your pictures though, I mostly see a young shrub that, although it will benifit from pruning each year, is mostly young new growth. I think time will take care of some of it as the shrub gets older.

Here are a couple of other views on pruning...

(Annual corrective pruning of vigorous shoots  a good method to control size if you donÂt use the 2 bud method)Â"This is the most commonly planted hydrangea because of its massive displays of large white flowers in mid- to late-summer. They gradually turn to pink and remain on the plant in a semi-dried condition long after the leaves have fallen. Pruning involves the removal of dead flowers, if unattractive, and annual corrective pruning of vigorous shoots. Thin and/or cut back the previous season's growth in late winter or early spring, since flower clusters occur on newly developing branches. Without regular pruning, this hydrangea can rapidly become quite overgrown and out of scale in the landscape. It can, however, be developed into a single or multi-stemmed tree form."

And from
It refers to the pruning method used by ego...and I think is a better description that the Toni Lawson-Hall one. Also, again, the removal of whole branches to control size if needed. 'Cut the wood of H. paniculata back to two buds at the base of each stem in late winter. New shoots, bearing large paniculate blooms will result. Sometimes whole branches may be removed to reduce the size of the shrub. The fewer the number of branches on the shrub, the larger the panicles.'

And another from the US arboretumÂ.
They refer to removal of 1/3 of oldest stemsÂ.a method I use with viburnum and dogwood.
Established bigleaf, panicle, oakleaf and smooth hydrangea plants can often benefit from regular pruning. Removing about one-third of the oldest stems each year will result in a fuller, healthier plant. This type of pruning is easiest to do in winter, since the absence of leaves makes it easier to see and reach inside plants.

I think if you do a search you will find even more. However, will simply get better as it gets older and the older stems get stronger. I think pruning will help develop a good shape and control size and keep it from being overgrown in the center. Good luck!

    Bookmark   September 1, 2006 at 8:32AM
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Last year there were some excellent comments about pruning PeeGee Hydrangas. I have a very specific question on this topic: I have not done much pruning and I have 3 new LimeLight Hydrangas planted last fall. I understand I need to prune to reserve 3-5 main strong stems that will from the basic structure of the tree in the future. But each stem ends in a flower. If I clip the flower off of a stem that I want to preserve, won't it cause that stem to branch off where I clipped it? And if you cut your PeeGee flowers, are you constantly creating further branching?

    Bookmark   May 30, 2007 at 8:06AM
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silvergold(z5a WI)

Hi shadyglen. Pruing to preserve 3-5 strong stems for a young plant, or to thin for an older plant would mean removing a branch or a section where it branches out (if that makes sense). You are correct that clipping the end of a stem will usually result in branching but if you also remove branches down to a main branch it should balance out. Hope that made sense!!

    Bookmark   May 31, 2007 at 8:10PM
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I have two limelight hydrangeas that are in their third summer. I haven't really pruned them much, I just cut back the larger one a bit this spring b/c the branches were way too long and tall. Now they have both bloomed, and I see that I should have cut them back more in the spring. The blooms have mostly drooped, almost to the ground, after several heavy rains. Even the thicker branches are all bending towards the ground. Can/should I prune this now? Will it bloom more this year from the areas that I cut back? The first blooms just really came out fully in the past 2 weeks. Thanks.

Here is a link that might be useful: drooping limelight

    Bookmark   July 28, 2009 at 9:09PM
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