To Prune or Not to Prune: Azaleas

APR 13
Azaleas are one of the most beloved landscape plants. Few plants can compare with their bountiful array of early-spring color. Another bonus is that azaleas tend to be very long-lived and can be enjoyed for decades. At some point in time, pruning may become necessary. But when should you prune and how so that you don't miss out on the flowers?
Living in the Mid-Atlantic region offers us many plant growing possibilities.  One of the most rewarding is azaleas.  Evergreen azaleas come in many sizes; dwarf, medium and tall growing.  hey produce flowers in a vast array of colors and forms.  If well-sited they require very little care and add abundant beauty to any landscape.  They prefer well-drained acidic soil and morning sun with dappled shade in the afternoon.
If you choose plants with the correct growth habit and allow them adequate spacing from foundations and walkways they require little, if any, pruning.  In the event that your azaleas do need some pruning here are some "dos and don'ts" to help you get the job done.
The first thing to consider when pruning azaleas is timing.  The best time to prune an azalea is after it has bloomed in the spring and the flowers have faded.  In this area, if you prune after early August you will be removing potential flowers.
Now here is a big "don't" when it comes to pruning azaleas.  Don't shear them!  To keep a natural, pleasing shape to your azaleas get out your hand pruners and commit some time to the job.
Begin with removing any dead wood from the plant.  Cut out dead branches back to live wood.  ou can determine where live wood begins by scraping your nail against the bark and checking for green under the outer bark.
In order to reduce the size of an exuberant plant the secret is to reach into the interior of the plant - follow branches back into the shrub to where they meet intersecting branches and cut them off flush.  How far in you make the cut depends on how much you want to reduce the overall size of the plant.  Your goal is to reduce the size but maintain symmetry.  The plant will appear less dense at first but will fill in quickly.
New shoots can be pinched back once or twice until early August in order to encourage branching and keep the new growth from spiking up above the symmetrical exterior shape you have created.
Pruning azaleas properly is not a "quick and dirty" job  -  it  requires some time, effort and patience.  The results, however, are well worth it - beautiful, natural looking plants!