New-growth? Old-growth? Both-growth??
Full disclosure - 85% of the reason I bought my house was because there were huge, beautiful hydrangea bushes in the front yard. The other 15% was the old house charm and minimal clutter. I was tricked by curb appeal and staging. So if you're ever looking to sell your weird, small, crooked, secretly broken house: stage, stage, stage. Some sucker will fall for it.
I always wanted a wonderfully bushy, overgrown cottage style garden. What I did not realize is that those carefree-looking gardens actually take a HUGE amount of work. Know what you can't do? Just ignore all the plants and think they're going to do anything. I mean, they'll do things but certainly not what you want.
So my messy cottage garden became more of an overgrown mess which was so full of dead stalks and leaves that none of the hydrangeas bloomed, or the few that did you couldn't even find! "So just cut it down... it will grow back." Right? Nope. There are two different kinds of hydrangeas and when and how much you can prune them depends on the type you have. Great! Unfortunately for my hydrangea, they were getting a haircut whether they were new-growth or old-growth bushes, but I would try to be respectful and not go too overboard.
After consulting the internet 45,000 times, I couldn't seem to identify whether my hydrangea were old-growth or new-growth bushes. Can they be both? Because they might be. So I decided that I would remove anything that was super dead. Seemed like a safe place to start...These super dead stalks were easy enough because I could, more or less, just pull them out with my hands.
Once I pulled out all the super dead stalks, the bush was about half its original size and really, very ugly and sad looking. The living stems were also really long and, now that I had gotten rid of the filler stalks, looked absurd. So I decided that I would take a chance and cut back the living stems. On each stem I located where the buds began and snipped, at a 45 degree angle (most of the time) above that spot. It is my hope that I left enough buds on the stalks to grow back in the spring. And if not...I didn't really get any flowers this year so I guess one more season without blooming hydrangeas won't kill me.
I have to give a very special shout out to Marcel, who carried and wheeled all the refuse to dump in the woods behind the house. I would not have completed this project if I also had to clean it up. The cut stems would still be laying on my front yard rotting a week later. Also a shout out to the HUGE garden spider pictured in the center top photo, who didn't emerge until I was done crawling around in the garden. It would have been a very different project had I known there were spiders the size of silver dollars in the plants I was crawling under.
An exciting development is that the lavender that I planted my first year in the dumbest, least thought out spot in my garden (gets shade more than 70% of the day) and then choked out with other plants, looks like it's doing its damnedest to grow up and give me that cottage garden I dream of. So next year I will move some stuff around and make more room for my scrappy and beloved lavender. I'm hoping with a little love, it will take off.