Now that your azaleas have finished blooming, you can forget them until next spring, right? Wrong. Keeping them healthy and looking great means giving them some attention during the next few weeks. Two things in particular that you shouldn't forget are pruning and insect control.
The Kindest Cut
Azaleas, especially those planted near the house, can get too big eventually. This necessitates pruning. Though the mere thought of this terrifies most homeowners, pruning correctly is really quite simple, as long as you remember these tips.
First, finish your pruning by late June. Once you get into July, most azaleas will start setting flowerbuds. Pruning after that will ruin next spring's floral display. Second, leave your hedge trimmers in the garage. The last thing you want to do is flat-top your azaleas. Your goal is to reduce them in size so that you can hardly tell you've pruned them.
How? Grab a pair of sharp pruning shears. Reach down inside the shrub, and cut only branches thicker than a pencil. Feel free to prune 12 to 18 inches of growth, always cutting back to a bud or another branch. Remove equal amounts of growth from all parts of the shrub--it's like giving someone a haircut. No stubs should be visible when you finish. Your azaleas will be smaller, but still bushy, green, and natural looking.
Now for the Bugs
Lace bugs are among the most common pests of azaleas. Small white flies with clear wings, they perch on the undersides of leaves, sucking sap. They leave hard, black spots on the leaves' lower surfaces, while the tops look speckled and bleached. Lace bugs favor azaleas growing in sun and go through several generations each year. Infested plants will drop leaves prematurely and may not bloom well.
Because lace bugs hide under the leaves, they're hard to hit with conventional insecticides applied with a sprayer. But I have a strategy that works pretty well. As soon as I finish pruning, I spray my azaleas according to label directions with a systemic insecticide called Cygon. I don't have to hit the bugs directly. The foliage absorbs the chemical, which then goes into the lace bugs. About three weeks later, I sprinkle granules of Bayer Advanced Garden 2-in-1 Systemic Azalea, Camellia & Rhododendron Care around the base of the plants and water it in. In addition to fertilizer, this product contains the insecticide disulfoton, which provides a good six weeks of control. If any lace bugs show up after that, I spray with Cygon again.
Now my azaleas bloom well, look nice, and don't block the windows. If only they'd plant themselves!
"Azalea Summer Care " is from the June 2003 issue of Southern Living.