How to Cut Hydrangeas for a Vase or Bouquet

Big mophead blooms of hydrangeas are popular in vases and in an arrangement for their sparkling color and their ability to fill space with only one bloom. The white varieties are also very popular for wedding bouquets and are rich in meaning and symbolism. With a few simple tips, hydrangeas can be your favorite friend to mix with other flowers or simply in a vase on their own. This guide will take you through everything you need to know about when and how to cut hydrangea flowers for a vase or bouquet arrangement. 

How to Cut Hydrangeas for a Vase or Bouquet

Key Takeaways

Unlike other types of flowers, hydrangea blooms should be cut when the flower is mature as they will not continue to open once trimmed. The flowers have a short vase life but can be left on the plant and dried for a long-lasting bouquet. A range of hydration treatments will keep the blooms in good shape.

Types Of Hydrangeas Suitable for Vases and Bouquets

Colorful hydrangea plants in bloom

There are six main types of hydrangeas, each with a few variations and multiple uses and benefits, in flower types but mostly requiring the same treatment for the vase or for a bouquet. These are the varieties to look out for:

  • Bigleaf (Hydrangea macrophylla) – the most popular variety, with over 600 different hybrids in the group. They are known for their mophead-shaped blooms that are fully formed balls of petals, or there are the lacecap varieties that have a small set of flowers in the center surrounded by larger flowers in a circle. These hydrangeas bloom in various colors, with blue, pink, and white being the most popular. There are some more unusual colors on the market in recent years, including purple, apricot, and red.
  • Oakleaf (Hydrangea quercifolia) – these are the southeastern American variety with leaves similar to an oak tree. The flowers are more elongated than the macrophylla, and they come in white or pinkish purple colors.
  • Climbing (Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris) – the larger variety of hydrangeas that is covered with white lacecap-styled flowers in a fragrant white.
  • Mountain (Hydrangea serrata) – similar to the Bigleaf hydrangeas with smaller leaves and a neat appearance. The flowers are lacecap-shaped, and colors are usually in blue, pink, or white.
  • Wild Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) – also called Smooth Hydrangea. They don’t have the best blooms, but if you have one, they make great fillers. The popular hybrids are white in color with bigger blooms, but you may find pink varieties too.
  • Panicle Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata) – a variety that has mainly pink blooms that change from pink to red tones as they get older. The flowers are conical-shaped.

Hydrangeas are all easy to grow in a semi-shaded spot in fertile soil that is well-draining with plenty of water. Add an occasional feeding and pruning at the right time, and you will be rewarded with lovely big blooms. They’re also easy to transplant or propagate if you ever need to relocate or expand your hydrangea plants. 

Best Tools For Cutting Hydrangeas

Best Tools For Cutting Hydrangeas

For the size of hydrangea stems, all you need to cut them is a sharp pair of pruning shears. They must also be clean before and after cutting to keep them in tip-top shape and to prevent transferring any potential diseases between plants and plant species. Clean the blades with hot soapy water, dry off thoroughly and then spray on lubrication oil to keep them at their best.

Hydrangeas are considered toxic (primarily when ingested), but it’s also prudent to wear gloves when handling the plants for extended periods of time. 

When to Cut Hydrangeas for Cut Flower Arrangements

If you are planning to cut hydrangeas, water the plants the day before so that they are fully hydrated. Cut in the early morning while the flowers are fresh. At a push, cut later in the day into evening, but avoid the heat of midday for any flowers, including hydrangeas.

Always cut during the peak of the hydrangea flowering season – look for full open blooms when they’ve reached their mature height. Newer blooms will not last and will wilt. They do not continue to open once cut like some other flowers. The more mature blooms will last longer in the vase.

Step-By-Step Guide To Cutting Hydrangeas Flowers

Step-By-Step Guide To Cutting Hydrangeas Flowers
  • When cutting hydrangeas for the vase or a bouquet, first take with you into the garden a bucket of tepid water so that the blooms can be cut and immediately placed in water.
  • Make a cut just above a node. This allows the plant to shoot from this point.
  • Strip off all the leaves from the stem.
  • Recut the stem at an angle and then cut vertically up the stem about an inch. This allows more water to access the stem. For thicker stems, you can cut a cross vertically in the stems to force more water into the plant.
  • Hydrangeas need to sit in this water for between 2 and 24 hours before arranging. This conditioning allows water to move up the stems and keep the flowers fresh.

How Long Will My Freshly Cut Hydrangeas Last For?

Hydrangeas kept in a cool room away from direct sunlight will last at least 3 to 5 days.

Tips To Extend The Life Of Fresh-Cut Hydrangeas

A collection of hydrangea flower arrangements composed in vases in a living space

Apart from floral preservatives in the water, try the following treatments to make the blooms last longer:

Alum treatment

Alum is the common name for potassium aluminum sulfate used extensively for pickling to keep the vegetables crisp. It is also used to purify water or as a deodorant. It comes in crystal form and as a powder which is the form to use here, and it can be found in the supermarket where the pickling spices are kept.

Alum powder also happens to be good for keeping hydrangeas blooming for longer by increasing the amount of water sucked up by the stems and keeping a large number of petals hydrated. For this treatment, recut the stem and make a vertical cut an inch up the stem. Dip the bottom of the stem in the alum powder before placing it in water.

Boiling water treatment

Recut the stem of a wilting hydrangea and place it in an inch or two of boiling water. Leave the water to cool and once at room temperature, the hydrangea will have recovered and be fully hydrated. Don’t pack too many hydrangeas in one container but instead spread them over a few containers if doing more than one. Turn the stems away from the boiling water’s steam to not damage the petals.

Water bath treatment

Wilted blooms can also be given a good bath to rehydrate the blooms. Fill a sink with tap water. Recut the stems and submerge the whole flower under the water for 30 minutes. Place in a container filled with water and give them enough space to dry out before rearranging the blooms. Once dry, they should be back to nearly perfect blooms.

Change the Water Frequently

Change the water in the vase every few days and give them a fresh cut at the base of the stem every time. Add a floral preservative to the water when arranging the flowers and replace it when the water is changed each time.

For more, see our in-depth guide on how to make fresh-cut flowers last longer

How Do You Preserve Or Dry Fresh Cut Hydrangea Flowers?

A single dried hydrangea flower composed in a black vase

Hydrangeas begin to dry out on the plant from the end of summer into autumn. This is the time to cut them for drying. Some will have changed color to an array of exciting autumn colors depending on the variety, and they will be papery. These make great blooms for drying and preserving. These are some of the methods to use for drying these blooms:

  • Hang the stems upside down in a cool, dry place to finish drying.
  • They can be arranged in a vase with a little water in the base and plenty of space between the blooms so that they dry slowly. Don’t place it in direct sunlight. This process will take about 2-3 weeks, and then they should be completely dry.

To preserve the color of hydrangeas, they can also be dried using silica gel. This product is available from craft stores or online and will maintain the color of the blooms and dry them out for a time. For this method, the flowers must be cut at their peak to get the best results. These are the steps to follow:

  • Study the blooms and discard any damaged petals and remove all the leaves. Cut the stems to an inch from the blooms.
  • Prepare a container that will fit the flowers with 2 inches to spare and cover the bottom with silica gel.
  • Place the blooms upside down in the container and carefully fill in around the flowers with the gel to cover them entirely by an inch.
  • Cover with a lid or plastic wrap and leave undisturbed in a cool, dry place for four days. Don’t leave them any longer, or they will be too brittle.
  • Unfurl the blooms and use them in arrangements. If not using them immediately, you can wire the stems to make them longer and keep the blooms in plastic bags.
  • Keep the silica gel to use again for the next batch of drying.

For more, see our in-depth guide to drying and preserving hydrangea flowers at home.

Wrapping Up

The round shape and many petalled blooms of hydrangeas make them quite unique in an arrangement, and they are well worth growing in a semi-shaded spot in a garden if you have the space. They need very little care and will give you the greatest of pleasure when they flower.

Contributing Editor | | Full Bio

Madison is a writer and editor with a Bachelor’s degree in History and Political Science. She writes and photographs for various online and print publications in the gardening sphere and is the author of the book The Next-Generation Gardener.

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