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Pruning Azaleas

Azaleas are beautiful, flowering shrubs that bloom in the spring, and thrive particularly well in the Southeast.  While they can grow to around eight feet tall, keeping these flowering bushes trimmed and shaped allows for proper air circulation, disease prevention and overall better health. By following a few simple guidelines, your azaleas will produce lovely blooms, adding pops of color throughout your lawn.

When To Prune Azaleas

The best time to shape or trim an azalea is after the spring flowers fade away, but don’t trim any later than July. Remember, less is more when it comes to chopping hunks of beautiful azalea. Allow the plant to do its thing, and just control the size to preference. Eliminate weak, brittle sprigs that drain vibrance. Snipping these away allows for new, healthier sections to dominate.

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If you prune too late in the year during late summer, fall or winter, you will cut off the flower buds for the next year and prevent the plant from blooming.

When To Prune Encore Azaleas

Like all other azaleas you should prune Encore Azaleas immediately after the spring flowering. This creates the maximum amount of buds to set. More than likely, only a light pruning is necessary to stimulate growth and flowering.

Why Prune Azaleas

In most cases, you should not need to prune azaleas. These are low maintenance plants and should produce beautiful flowers year after year.  But, perhaps your beautiful azalea has overgrown to monstrous proportions and is blocking your view to the rest of your yard because the bush is too tall. Or the shrub is not producing as many flowers as it has in the past.  Or sometimes azaleas become leggy and need to be rejuvenated. Pruning can improve air circulation, provide disease prevention and encourage new growth. It can also shape the plant to better fit the location it is growing in your yard.

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How to Prune Azaleas

Most azaleas are just going to need a little shaping and thinning, to maintain size and health. This is easy as 1-2-3, and why azaleas and rhododendrons are considered low maintenance.

Step 1 - wait until the flowers die off in the spring to prune

Step 2 - cut off dead branches and stems from the shrub

Step 3 - prune off live stems and branches to conform the plant into your preferred shape

You can keep the plants small and cute, or have them as more of a statement shrub. Some skilled gardeners are able to trim these plants into topiaries or even grow them into a tree form by pruning.

What You’ll Need to Prune Azaleas

  • Hand Clippers—This small tool is great for controlled cutting. Be sure the blades are sharp, and clean, to prevent foliage disease spread.

  • Loopers—Bigger than hand clippers, loopers can tackle heftier stems.

  • Gloves—Pruning is hard work for your hands!

Be sure to clean your tools in between prunings to prevent the spread of diseases and to remove any sap that is on the blades. 

We do not recommend using hedge trimmers to shear azaleas into boxes or other shapes. This will cause the plant to look terrible and prompt the foliage and the flowers to only exist in the outer inch of the bushes.

leggy-azalea-example-1.jpgPruning Leggy Azaleas

Most of the time, azaleas will only need a light trimming when they become “leggy”. Leggy essentially means that the leaves are only growing on the outer edges of the branches, and the plant does not look full or lush. 

To help encourage the plant to grow thicker foliage, selective pruning of old wood is the best strategy. Pick out only a few branches per year, and cut those down to a dormant bud or lower sturdy branch. Do a few branches each year for best results. This is a slow process, but works very effectively. This should be done in the winter when the plant is dormant. 


Can You Cut Back Azaleas To The Ground?

We do not recommend ever cutting an azalea shorter than 12 inches tall. If you cut back the plant all the way to the ground, you risk the plant becoming weakened by poor nutrition or disease and die. The plant may also take up to 3 years to bloom again if you cut back the shrub that much.

If you must take drastic measures, we recommend leaving 2 main branches at least 2 foot tall, and cutting back the other main branches 6 inches tall. That way there are at least a few branches that aren’t cut back all the way.

Deadheading Azaleas & Rhododendrons

Depending on the type of azaleas you have, deadheading (removing the spent blossoms) may encourage the plant to produce beautiful new flowers. If you have a deciduous azalea, then you may deadhead the flowers. If you have an evergreen azalea or rhododendron, then you typically will not deadhead the flowers.

The reason for deadheading is two-fold. First, it will help the plant look better and encourages more flowers to grow the following year. Second, the flowers will sometimes turn slimy and moldy during periods of heavy rain, possibly leading to fungal diseases.

To deadhead the flowers, you can either use your fingers and pinch off the flowers, or you can use small pruners to do the job. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly afterwards. Be sure to only remove the dead flowers, not the buds from the plant.

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Overall, taking care of azaleas is a snap, and they are particularly great for those with little time to work in the yard. Pruning is simple, and if you keep up with it, you’ll never have to spend too much time doing it. Then you’ll have plenty of afternoon hours to sit on your porch with a glass of lemonade, taking in the beauty. 

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Sources:

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