Prune Azaleas Now
Spring in the south brings a colorful profusion of flowers from azaleas that appear to drift across the landscape like colorful clouds. Pruning is needed occasionally especially in larger growing cultivars when they outgrow their intended space. Pruning can help produce more compact growth and by following simple techniques the natural graceful form of this shrub can be maintained. It is not necessary to prune azaleas annually.
The timing of pruning is important if you desire spring flowers. A good time to prune azaleas is after flowers have faded but before new flower buds have started to form. Next year’s flower buds typically begin forming at the beginning of July so go ahead and get them pruned now. If you prune in the late summer or fall the plants will not produce the customary spring flush of flowers.
Azaleas are best pruned with recently sharpened hand clippers and loppers. Sharp blades make clean cuts avoiding the crushing and tearing damage caused by dull tools.
Begin by removing the dead or damaged branches. Tall limbs that are at the top of the plant should be cut by reaching down inside the plant removing stem. This allows for increased air movement and light into the center of the plant. Stagger cuts on stems so they are cut at different heights. Make about every 5 cut more deeply into the bush so new growth is stimulated near the center of the plant. The overall effect is to reduce the size of the plant without destroying its symmetry. Strong new shoots may be pinched back until early August to encourage branching.
In most landscapes, azaleas look best when minimally pruned, allowing them to retain their naturally graceful form. Sheared shrubbery requires a tremendous amount of maintenance to keep the formal, closely clipped look.
Overgrown shrubs can be drastically pruned in late February when azaleas grow too big for their surroundings. Overgrown plants can be cut down to about 1 foot in height. By spring the shrubs should be covered with lots of new growth. Shape the new stems so that the center stems are a bit higher than the outer stems and remove weak growth. Plants will take several years to completely recover.