Pruning Azalea Bushes
Azaleas create spectacular displays of color every spring – some varieties bloom early, announcing that warm weather is on its way, while others last well into early summer, then lose their blooms as summer’s heat arises. Regardless of which type or color of azalea you have (and you may have several), pruning them back at the right time and in the right way is the best way to assure that the blooms will come back each and every year. We’ve all seen azaleas that have been trimmed back in the wrong way – shaped into formal boxes that obliterate their natural grace or sheared off so that the plant looks like a green ball with tufts of flowers at the end – or worst of all, trimmed at the wrong time so that all the buds are eliminated. Here are important tips on the right way to keep your azalea bushes looking their best.
The best time to prune your azalea bush is just after the plant loses its blooms. The summer time, usually around the middle of July but sometimes as late as early fall is when the plant does most of its growing and produces its buds, so any cutting after that time will actually trim off next season’s flowers, leaving you with a green shrub that is barren of blooms. Withered azalea flowers are your signal to pull out your pruners; cutting when these appear will make your plant look healthier, and allows you to get outdoors and enjoy some of the most pleasant weather of the year.
Azaleas do not generally grow very large, so once your plant has achieved the size you want it pruning is really about keeping it to the desired size and shape that maximizes the number of blooms that appear all throughout the bush. Never use shears! The best tool for cutting back azaleas is a hand pruner that allows you more control. Sheers are best for cutting at the edge of a branch, and will create straight edges that look too formal for the natural flow of the azalea. Instead, take your pruners and cut about a foot or so down from the branch you are cutting. Doing this will create multiple branches that emerge just below your cut – each will form their own flowers, multiplying the blooms that you have the following year and creating greater fullness for the plant.