Azalea Pruning Tips

Help this popular shrub keep its naturally beautiful, loose, rounded shape.
Charlie Thigpen

Each spring, azaleas light up our gardens with a profusion of colorful blooms. These classic mounding shrubs drift across the landscape like showy clouds. Once established, they need little care. Prune them correctly, and watch plants produce layers of beautiful bell-shaped flowers.

When To Prune Azaleas
Prune azaleas soon after they bloom in the spring or early summer. The perfect time is when spent flowers begin to discolor and shrivel. Cutting them back in late summer, fall, or winter will remove flowerbuds and keep them from blooming.

Azalea Prooning Tools
A pair of hand clippers and loppers are all you'll need. Hand clippers work well on limbs smaller than ½ inch in diameter. Loppers handle branches ½ to 1 ½ inches thick. They have long handles, which give you plenty of leverage for cutting woody limbs and allow you to reach into the center of shrubs. Don't use shears on azaleas unless you are creating a formal look or a shaped hedge. Remember, squared-off hedges and closely clipped shrubs require a lot of maintenance.

Keep cutting tools sharp, so their blades make clean cuts when slicing through wood. Many quality clippers have replacement blades. Small files designed just for sharpening blades can also be purchased. Dull tools make pruning more difficult and will crush and tear stems.

How to Prune Azaleas
In most landscapes, azaleas look best when minimally pruned, allowing them to retain their naturally graceful form. Remove long stray shoots by reaching down into the plant and making cuts next to larger woody branches. This allows sunlight and air movement in the center of the shrub, which promotes healthy new growth.

Major Azalea Pruning
When azaleas grow too big for their surroundings, they may need to be pruned drastically. You can cut overgrown plants down to about 1 foot in height. Then feed them with a slow-release, water-soluble fertilizer (12-6-6). Frequently water the plants you cut back to encourage a flush of suckers from the stumps. The following spring, the shrubs should be covered with lots of new growth. Reduce the number of shoots per stump to two or three, leaving only the strongest and best placed ones.

Choose the Right Azaleas
When planting azaleas, use selections that won't outgrow the space. Satsuki Hybrids such as 'Gumpo' grow only about 3 feet tall, while Southern Indica Hybrids such as 'George Lindley Taber' and 'Mrs. G.G. Gerbing' can grow 10 feet tall. Read tags and label information before buying plants, and check with reputable landscapers or your county Extension agent to ensure you're making the right choice. A large shrub growing in a small area can create a maintenance nightmare.