Pruning Azaleas

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Azaleas require little maintenance to keep them healthy and full of blooms. One of the home gardener's regular maintenance duties is pruning--and azaleas require pruning. But how much and how often to prune? Here are some steps to follow to ensure proper azalea pruning.

Tools Required:

  • Hand pruning shears or clippers 
  • Lopping shears or loppers

Step 1 - Timing Is Everything

When to prune azaleas isn't complicated. There are two ideal pruning time--in spring right after blooming and in early summer. Spent blooms shrivel and discolor, signaling a good time to prune. Do not prune azalea plants in late summer as this will remove flower buds and prevent blooming.

Step 2 - Size Up Azalea To Be Pruned

Is the azalea a shrub that's overgrown its location? This may require major pruning. Does the azalea only need minimal pruning to help it regain its natural shape? Depending on the amount of pruning required, the task may be quickly accomplished or it may take several hours.

Step 3 - Sharpen Pruning Tools

Be sure the pruning tools are very sharp to provide quick, clean cuts. Some of the more high-quality garden pruning shears and clippers come with replacement blades but you can just as easily use a small file designed specifically for sharpening blades of cutting tools. Do not attempt to prune with dull tools because this will only tear and crush the azalea stems and make the job much more difficult than it needs to be.

Step 4 - Minimal Pruning

Most azaleas require minimal pruning. The first step is to remove any dead wood. Reach into the plant to take out any stray branches. Make the necessary lateral cuts next to the larger, woody branches. Shape as desired, but do not use hedge shears. If the azalea is a large shrub, using hedge shears will result in the plant's requiring constant maintenance. Do this only if the sheared look is a design requirement and you have sufficient time to devote to the upkeep.

Step 5 - Major Pruning

Some varieties of azalea will become overgrown in a short period of time if they have been left to meander and spread too long. In either case, major pruning will be required. Here's what to do:

  • Cut down overgrown plants until they're about 1-foot in height.
  • Fertilize azalea plants with a water-soluble, slow-release fertilizer (12-6-6).
  • Water the cut-back plants frequently. This encourages suckers to grow from the stumps.
  • Each spring when new growth is abundant, remove 2 or 3 branches per piece of wood, leaving only the strongest and best pieces.

Pruning azaleas shouldn't be too time consuming unless the plant is severely overgrown. Read all plant labels carefully before buying azalea plants, as their height and width at maturity varies widely. Some hybrids only grow to about 3 feet while other varieties reach heights of 10 feet.

If a large and overgrown azalea shrub is to remain in the garden, it may need to be moved to a better location where it can grow as it needs.

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