How to Prune Azaleas to Keep Them Blooming!
Azaleas generally do not need to be trimmed regularly, but they sometimes need a little pruning. If you have an azalea that looks a little worse for wear, or you are not sure where to start for shaping that lovely shrub, we have some tips that will help you navigate the process. Knowing how to prune azaleas isn’t complicated, so long as you start with the right information.
Azalea bushes make wonderful flowering plants for the front of a house and will wow with their beautiful spring blooms.
When to prune azaleas
The best timing for pruning azaleas is in late spring. Trimming and shaping are best done immediately after flowering before early summer. Pruning after flowering will minimize the impact on next year’s blooms.
The flower buds form in late summer and early autumn, so any pruning that is done any later than early summer will impact the number of flowering new stems and new buds that can develop in time for the next year’s blooms.
Although pruning in early fall will impact flowering the following year, it will not hurt the plant.
You can trim a little to keep the natural shape, or you can trim azaleas a lot to conform to the shape you want in your garden.
Deadheading is removing all the old flowers from a plant. With azaleas, deadheading is very important to start early on; it will help shape the plant, and once shaped the plant will require minimum pruning.
Deadheading also allows the plant to put its energy and focus on growth instead of seed production.
Spent flowers can also mold and cause disease.
To deadhead the flowers, you can either use your fingers and pinch off the flowers or use small pruners.
Note: You will not need to deadhead if you have evergreen azaleas.
What tools do you need to prune azaleas
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- Hand pruners
- Gloves (these are my current favorite gloves! I go through gloves a lot because I am hard on them. I find these have great grip, last a long time, and don’t feel thick and bulky on my hands.)
Be sure to sanitize your equipment to prevent spreading disease through your garden after every use. You can sanitize with 1 part bleach to 9 parts water.
You will also want to add patience to the list. Pruning azaleas is a process that can only be done adequately by hand. Don’t be tempted to use a hedge trimmer; it will cause too much damage to the plant and make the shrub look ratty.
See Also: The Top 10 Best Gardening Tools
How to Prune deciduous azaleas
Start by thining out the center of the plant to improve air circulation. Next, cut back any thin, weak, diseased, dead wood, old wood, and any overcrowded growth at the base of the plant.
Once the center is pruned, you can shape the bush to your requirements. Cut back any unruly, long branches to even out the plant’s shape.
Your pruning can be pretty aggressive if need be. The azalea will recover quickly. The growth of new branches will be vigorous, so be sure to pinch it back next season before the new growth gets out of hand.
To prune an azalea shrub:
- Wait until the flowers die off in late spring to prune. This is the best time to prune to avoid removing flowering buds that spring flowers next year.
- Cut off dead branches and stems from both inside and outside of the bush.
- Prune off live stems and branches to shape the shrub
How to encourage dense bushy growth
You will also want to pinch any apical leaf bud from any non-flowering stems. Apical leaf buds are found at the end of a shoot and where shoot growth occurs. Pinching out these leaf buds will encourage solid lateral branching and new shoots for denser growth.
If your azalea is looking leggy, you can remove a few branches per year and cut those down to a dormant bud or lower sturdy branch. Only remove a few branches each year for the best results. Removing leggy branches should be done during the plant’s dormancy period in late winter.
What to do with a very old overgrown shrub
If you’re dealing with a very old shrub that is too overgrown and light pruning isn’t possible, you can cut the plant back to a 12-inch stump.
It is important to note that azaleas can resist shooting from bare wood, so cutting back to a stump is a risk. However, if the plant was healthy to start with, it has a much better chance of bouncing back.
A safer, although the slower, method is to do a hard rejuvenation pruning over two to three years. Opting to prune over time will ensure the plant survives, but you may go without flowers for a few years.
How do you keep azaleas blooming
Every single time I see an azalea in bloom in early spring, it makes my heart stop. The bushes are gorgeous in full bloom and always a welcome sight after a long winter. But how do you ensure that your azalea will keep producing beautiful flowers year after year?
Azaleas like their sunlight with a little dappled shade. Planting them in full sun may suffer leaf scorch or become targets for pests like spider mites.
Alternately if you plant them in the full shade, they won’t bloom.
The goldilocks zone for azaleas is somewhere they receive dapped sun during the day or light shade in the afternoon. Under trees or along the north side of a house are good locations to plant your azaleas to encourage better blooms.
Azaleas are very sensitive to water stress during the growing season. In summer water every 4-5 days. Be sure to give the roots a really good soak.
Soil & Mulch
Azaleas, like rhododendrons, love acidic soil. You can mulch with a thick layer of pine needles, and the azaleas will love it! The pine needles will provide acid to the soil and help retain moisture. The plants also require well-draining soil to prevent diseases like root rot, which is a common problem.
Choose burlap or any cloth material to cover the azaleas. Burlap and cloth will allow airflow but still protect the azalea through the winter months.
You will not want the cover to touch any part of the plant as this can damage the branches of the azaleas.
Covering is not critical for well-established azaleas, but you should cover the plants for any recently transplanted or newly planted bushes. Azaleas have shallow root systems, and until the roots are well established, they can be easily pulled out of the ground by a strong wind.
Looking for More “Wow” Plants to Add to Your Home Garden?
We have posts on how to grow the best plants around your home for curb appeal and your enjoyment!
- Flowers that Grow in the Shade: The 14 Best Options
- Bulbs for Spring Planting and Beautiful Summer Blooms
- Spring Gardening: Here’s Everything You Need To Know
- How to Plant Gladiolus Bulbs For Beautiful Summer Blooms
- The Best Flowers for Bees To Plant In Your Gardens
Don’t be tempted to use a hedge trimmer on your beautiful azaleas! A hedge trimmer will cause too much damage to the plant and make the shrub look ratty. In addition, the ragged cuts on the tips will heal slowly and keep the plant open to fungal diseases for far too long. It is better to go slow with a sharp manual clipper to make clean cuts.
You will want to prune azaleas right after they bloom. Pruning any later can remove flower buds and prevent the plant from blooming the following spring.
There are several ways to tell the difference between rhododendrons and azaleas. Rhododendrons all are evergreen plants while azaleas are either deciduous (sheds leaves annually) or evergreen. You can also tell by the size of the plants: Rhododendrons are much larger than azaleas – both their blooms and leaves are bigger. In addition, azaleas have tubular-shaped flowers while rhododendrons tend to be bell-shaped. And finally, azaleas only have one flower per stem while rhododendron flowers grow in round bunches at the ends of branches.