Azalea pruning - Atlanta area

tocohillsguyApril 24, 2007

I have some very old azalea bushes. Probably planted in the 60s. Pink blooms, small leafs. My friend thinks they are Coral Bells. The largest one is over 6 feet tall. The smaller ones are maybe 2 feet tall. All have been historically sheared into formal ball or hedge shapes. They look great when blooming, but otherwise look thin and empty in the interior. I cut out all of the dead wood last year and tried to open up the plant to increased light in the hope that it would stimulate new growth in the interior of the plant. I see some growth in the interior, but nothing to get excited about. The blooms were destroyed with our recent April freeze so I assume this would be a good time to prune, but I'm not sure how to best "fix" these plants so they are more lush in the interior. Suggestions would be appreciated.

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Correction to my earlier post. The big azalea is about 8 feet tall and the smaller ones are about 3 feet tall.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2007 at 8:25PM
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luis_pr(7b/8a Hurst, TX)

Hello, tocohillsguy. Some people like to "pinch" the leaf buds to promote more leaf development in the interior of the bush. This technique -called pinching- requires several years to fix a bush since you only pinch once in the spring.

Others just prune the plants. When pruning azaleas, you can prune anywhere on the stems and new leaves will appear just below the cut. Since your plants are quite old, I would prune less than 1/3 of the plant on any year in order to minimize the shock to your plants. For more information on pruning azaleas, check (below) the Azalea Society of America's website.

Last tip: Be careful not to disturb your azalea roots when pruning. They are tiny, can be easily damaged and are in the topmost 4" of the soil.


Here is a link that might be useful: Pruning azaleas

    Bookmark   April 25, 2007 at 1:40AM
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Luis, thank you for the assistance. Below is a picture link showing the azalea at issue. The picture is from the side. It has been opened up because the lawn service hacked the neighboring Cleyera like a Crepe Myrle.

Here is a link that might be useful: Azalea picture

    Bookmark   April 25, 2007 at 10:04PM
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morz8(Washington Coast Z8b)

I'm not clear on what you hope to achieve. Were you wanting to change the shape completely from the sheared look, or lose some of the height?

I don't think it's possible to stimulate much in the way of interior growth and keep the tall canopy of foliage too.
Healthy well established azaleas will normally respond well to renovative pruning - that is, cut them back hard all at once - you could then let them grow out into a more natural shape if that was your goal. Removing 1/3 of the plant at a time over a three year period is safest, but for the most part, they do fine if cut almost to the ground all at once unless under some kind of stress (insects, drought etc).

Has the ground cover always been there? Normally use of thick ground cover over the root zones is discouraged, due to azaleas surface rooting habit. Healthiest plants often have little more than mulch between the drip line and base.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2007 at 11:46PM
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I'm okay with the shape of the azalea, but not wed to it. We probably need to lose some of the height. It's about a foot above the window sill. (That being said it's nice to see the blooms from the room, sort of like a window box, but that's only for a couple of weeks.) So in my ideal world the plant would be lush with interior growth and about two to three feet shorter. The ground cover has been there as long as I've owned the house, and probably for decades prior. English Ivy can be a nuisance in the South, and it grows like a weed. I suspect it might actually be helpful to the plant, because there is no irrigation and it holds moisture much like mulch. In fact, one down side is that mosquitos like to breed in the ivy due to the moisture.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2007 at 9:12AM
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I have azaleas along one wall of the house in a shrubbery bed in east Texas. In front of them are low evergreens which spill over the 12" high retaining wall. The azaleas grow so large that they overhang the evergreens and could kill them for lack of light and sunshine. Every 3 years or so I cut them back to about 3' high, and they come back beautifully, but they hardly bloom any year, even though I cut them back in May. They are now about 5' high and wide enough that they form a solid hedge along that 25' wall.

How can I cut them back and promote blooming next year? I use shrubbery fertilizer on them once in late spring.

Thanks for your help.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2011 at 4:10PM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

The fertilizer may be the problem. It is giving you a lot of green growth rather than flowers. Lay off the fertilizer this year. Azaleas don't need much nitrogen. It can inhibit flower production. Once they start blooming, stick to a good azalea fertilizer like HollyTone and only apply at half the rate on the package.

The sooner after blooming you can cut them back the better. May should be OK.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2011 at 8:00PM
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