There are many reasons to find out about pruning azaleas. It could be that your shrub is dominating the space it's planted in and needs to be controlled. Maybe your azalea doesn't look that healthy so you want to boost its chances by removing any tired branches to let in some air and promote healthy new growth.
Or perhaps your azalea isn't a very pleasing shape and needs some light scissoring to bring out its best. If your shrub is starting to look unkempt it can be tidied up after flowering in late spring or early summer. Meanwhile an old azalea shrub can be brought back to life if it's cut back hard, which will kickstart it into flowering again.
The good news is that azaleas are undemanding shrubs as you'll find out with our azaleas plant care and growing guide. Most need very little pruning and stay looking good naturally but there is still some key advice you need to know to keep your shrub at its best.
How to get started with pruning azaleas
First find out what type you have as this is key to how and when to prune azaleas as part of your overall pruning shrubs tidy up.
There are two distinct types. Evergreen azaleas (sometimes called Japanese or Asian azaleas) are one of the best evergreen shrubs for your garden. They keep their leaves in winter and include fast growing and dwarf varieties. They only need pruning to remove dead wood, or reduce their size if they have started to outgrow their space.
Deciduous (also known as native) azaleas are one of the best spring flowering plants and lose their leaves in fall. Generally they don't need much pruning either unless it's to remove a broken branch or diseased part of the shrub to improve the look of it.
Remember to let the natural beauty of your azalea shrub shine. Forget about trying to clip it into hard and unnatural lines. Instead let it billow softly into loose clouds of foliage and flowers. This idea is central to Japanese garden ideas, with exquisite azaleas often taking center stage in such schemes.
How to prune azaleas in 5 easy steps
- First take an overview of your azalea shrub, looking for any dead, diseased or misshapen or crossing branches that are spoiling the look of your plant. These are the ones to snip off first. Cut branches off to a natural point above a leaf. Use long-handled loppers to deal with thicker stems.
- Azaleas bloom on old wood, producing flower buds on last year's growth, so be careful not to mistake old wood for dead wood or you won't get so many blooms next year.
- Using sharp pruning shears or hand pruners, cut individual branches. Keep in mind as you go the shape you want for your azalea shrub, so stand back occasionally to check your progress. Stick with the natural outline as far as possible, opting for soft mounds of foliage wherever possible.
- If your shrub has developed long woody stalks with clusters of leaves on the end, part them to get into the heart of the plant with loppers. This way you can thin out the stalks and allow light and air into the center of the shrub.
- Take a final overview, checking for any remaining dead foliage or twigs, and make sure you are happy with the shape of your azalea shrub.
When should you prune azaleas?
When to prune azaleas depends on the variety you have as well as its condition.
Lightly prune evergreen azaleas immediately after the blooms have faded in spring. Don't prune them at the end of summer or in fall, as you could damage the new flower buds that are forming for next spring.
Azaleas can be regularly tidied up after flowering to remove any dead or diseased foliage and this will improve the look of your shrub too.
If you're planning on a more severe pruning session because your shrub has grown too large or is looking tired and straggly this is best done in late winter/early spring as part of your spring garden jobs to get your plot ready for summer.
How do you deal with an azalea that's too big?
Just like you might want to prune a camellia that has become too big, if you have an azalea that has outgrown the space or has lost its shape, you can cut it back hard with loppers to about 12in (30cm) off the ground. This should be done in late winter/early spring.
After you've cut it back feed your shrub with a slow-release, water-soluble fertilizer, available from Amazon that's suitable for azaleas and water regularly to boost new growth.
Knowing how to prune azaleas correctly is key if you want to slash them back, and then hopefully the following spring you should see lots of thick, new growth on your azalea and your shrub will have a new lease of life. You might not see any blooms in the first year but you'll be amply rewarded in the long term.
Alternatively you can cut back an azalea by around 20 per cent and still see great results. 'If a shrub is a little overgrown and misshapen I use a technique I call "selective thinning" by reaching down inside the plant and taking out certain branches to help retain the shape and form of the plant,' explains plant specialist David Yost of Merrifield, a garden center, nursery and landscaping company that covers Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC.
'Cut where the branch naturally divides or forks. Reduce the size of the azalea by around 20 per cent and it will respond really well to the pruning. Don’t be afraid to go in more vigorously either if you feel your plant needs it.’
Lifestyle journalist Sarah Wilson has been writing about gardens since 2015. She's written for Gardeningetc.com, Livingetc, Homes & Gardens, Easy Gardens and Modern Gardens magazines. Having studied introductory garden and landscape design, she is currently putting the skills learned to good use in her own space where the dream is establishing a cutting garden.
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