Every proper Southern garden needs a beautiful bank of naturally shaped azaleas.
Southern Credit Azaleas
Credit: Van Chaplin

Mounds of red, pink, and white azaleas explode every spring, beautifying your yard and giving you great satisfaction for properly taking care of the shrubs throughout the year. Fortunately, once established, azaleas need little care. Prune azaleas correctly, and your plants will gift you with lovely flowers for years to come.

When to Prune Azaleas

Trim azaleas in the wrong season and you will cut off next year's blossoms. Since azaleas bloom on old wood, they produce flower buds on last year's growth. Ensure a riot of flowers to enjoy next summer and put up your clippers after springtime. The ideal time to give your azaleas a trim is within a three-week period after they finish blooming in spring. This gives the azaleas plenty of time to make flower buds (which appear as pale, fuzzy buds curled tight on the tips of branches) for next year. If you wait until the late summer or fall to prune, you risk cutting off the flower buds and all you will get next year is a bush full of green leaves.

Use the Right Tools

Azaleas are beloved for their natural airy shape and look awful (and perform even worse) when sheared into boxy figures. Never use electric hedge trimmers when pruning azaleas; flat-topping your azaleas by trimming only the ends of branches will result in dense twiggy growth with sparse foliage. Small hand pruners are fine for trimming pencil-width stems, but long-handled loppers are the tool of choice when cutting branches ½ inch to 1 ½ inches in diameter. The handles provide the leverage needed to make clean cuts.

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How to Prune Azaleas

For yearly pruning, reach inside the shrub and cut back branches to slightly different lengths to create a cloudlike, mounding shape. Loppers may be necessary to prune thick branches. Some azalea hybrids, such as Kurume, grow slower than Southern Indian hybrids and usually need pruning only once in 4-5 years. Southern Indians grow fast and may need trimming every year. Regardless of the hybrid, if it has been a while since your shrubs were shaped up, they have probably grown long woody stalks with clusters of foliage at the tips. You will need to reach inside the plant and cut these stalks off where they join up with each branch. The cuts will be hidden by surrounding foliage and sunlight can penetrate to the center of the shrub, encouraging new growth and flowers. This pruning method allows the shrubs to maintain their natural, airy shape.