Drastic prune Azaleas ?

xjaxx(z7-8 SC)May 6, 2005

I have a row of Azaleas along the driveway that are over 20 years old and much too large. Can I cut these back to about 15 inches and expect them to put out new branches? Thanks for any info. Xjaxx

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
jenny_in_se_pa(USDA7 Sunset 32)

Yes you can cut them back like that. This is rejuvination pruning and should trigger dormant buds down low on the trunks to sprout. They may take a few years to fill out but they should recover nicely.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2005 at 11:08AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Only I would prune them back harder than that. Rejuvenation pruning can mean down to 6 inch stumps. Or less. Make your cuts crisp with a sharp instrument.

I've done azaleas several times, at different locations. They respond very well to this procedure. Don't plant on fertilizing this season.

Here is a link that might be useful: rejuvenation pruning

    Bookmark   May 6, 2005 at 5:52PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
becktuck(6b-7 (middle TN))

I also have inherited some azaleas that have obviously been sheared for several years and now form a 5-foot "hedge" that is blocking windows. I'd planned to cut them back hard as you describe here, but am curious about your advice "don't plan on fertilizing this season." Can you explain?

    Bookmark   May 8, 2005 at 9:20PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
jenny_in_se_pa(USDA7 Sunset 32)

I think the issue with fertilizing after a major pruning job this late relates to possibly having it put out too much new growth that won't have time to harden off for winter. Ie., especially in your neck of the woods, you tend to have mild winters punctuated with cold snaps and you want to minimize any damage to tender growth if the shrub isn't at least on its way to slowing down and dormancy. Plus you'll have a large mature root system with very little top, so the fertilizer may not be needed anyway as the shrub would essentially be leafless and the pruning should trigger the awakening of the dormant buds in any case. I think if you cut back hard now and let them recover and grow slowly and naturally the rest of this year and then fertilize late winter, it would flush out next year and have more time to harden off.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2005 at 11:04AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Good answer, Jenny. It also has to do with allowing the established root system to compensate for the loss of the plant body on its own time and using all of that stored energy to make new stems and leaves. Artificially accelerated growth is never a good thing for plants, especially during a time when plant is already in a stress situation. That mature root system will be able to supply all of the water and minerals your azaleas need for this first season.

Fertilizers are not vitamins, medicines, tonics, or cure-alls for our plants. Properly established plants probably don't need much fertilizer at all!

Good luck with the project! Take a deep breath!

    Bookmark   May 10, 2005 at 1:13PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
becktuck(6b-7 (middle TN))

Thank you for the advice. I'd planned to mulch with a little pine straw after pruning, so I'll just do that and skip the fertilizer.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2005 at 7:34PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
dunaz(z7 Mooresville)

This has been great reading, folks, thank you. I inherited a yard-full of old, HUGE azaleas. They all need some care, and the ones closest to the house need some drastic measures to get them to an appropriate scale, not to mention that I'd like to be able to see out the front window!

So, it sounds like the ones in the front of the house I want to prune gradually, to keep up appearances. The ones in the back can be drastically pruned and then pretty much I start over with keeping them in line.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2005 at 8:59AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Here's something to ponder. If you do it all at once, you will be enjoying your pretty 'little' azaleas in just a matter of a very few months....weeks really.

I mention this because I talked a customer into doing this very thing just this year. It took some major convincing, as you can imagine! But he did it. He and his wife called me just yesterday to 'brag' how great they were growing out already.

I also recall the time I was almost evicted from a home I was renting in SC. The large, overgrown azaleas completely blocked the view and air circulation from the screened front porch! I whacked them all the way to the ground, and the neighbor reported me to the landlord! Ha! When the plants grew back and looked so beautiful, he was all hugs and kisses.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2005 at 3:01PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
anita55(zone 6 NY)

This is just the advice I was looking for. When should this be done?

    Bookmark   May 13, 2005 at 6:26AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
jenny_in_se_pa(USDA7 Sunset 32)

I think many people wait until during or right after bloom as that is when the azalea would normally start growing new leaves for the season.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2005 at 12:28PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
SusuLo(Z6 CT)

This is almost the advice I was looking for! I think? You see I have two very naughty dogs that have done some of their own "extensive rejuvenation" pruning on two of my azalea bushes and they did this at some point during the winter. A few of the remaining branches have leaves and a few buds, but the branches that were extensively pruned by my beloved dogs, don't really have any signs of life, as far as I can tell? As these branches were chewed practically down to the ground. If I trim the chewed ends after the plant blooms (or should I do it now?), what are my chances (if any) of the plant coming back? Any advice? Thanks!!

    Bookmark   May 13, 2005 at 3:52PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
jenny_in_se_pa(USDA7 Sunset 32)

I would cleanly prune any mauled branches and then you'll have to wait to see if that branch will start leafing out down below the cuts. This may take some time to begin - often into early summer. It all depends on how old the plants are. The older it is, the better the chances it will resprout and come back quickly, since it would already have an extensive mature root system.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2005 at 10:43AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
morz8(Washington Coast Z8b)

SuSuLo, prune anything damaged, chewed, or broken now ... clean sharp cuts are better than torn or jagged ends that could offer a foothold for diseases or insects.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2005 at 12:43PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
aept(Chicago, IL)

You guys ROCK!

This is great advice, and just what I've been looking for. We moved into a house in 8/04 and are still trying to figure out what the sellers could have possible been thinking when they planted this garden. Examples: peonies under huge shade trees, azalea bushes in deep (and I mean really d-e-e-p) shade in the backyard, and so on. So, having rescued our two (wheezing and emaciated) refugee azaleas from the dark of the backyard, I'm trying to nurse them back to health in some sort of real time, because I want them to be healthy this fall when they harden off for winter.

So, I'm off to take a look and prune away!

Thans again, all!


    Bookmark   June 6, 2005 at 12:33PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thanks for all this good advice...we have some azaleas that are about 25 years old, had pruning many times,but have really gotten out of hand in the last couple of years. My husband had suggested Major Pruning but I was leaning more to the minor pruning... but you have convinced me he is probably right! Some areas don't really matter, but we have some near the house that need to have some drastic measures taken. (Husband will love to find out he is right!)

    Bookmark   June 6, 2005 at 9:48PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
pennyviolet(z5 CT)

Would this technique work on the massive tangle of rhododendrens I inherited?

    Bookmark   June 10, 2005 at 3:14PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
morz8(Washington Coast Z8b)

Penny, if the rhododendrons are healthy, you can drastic prune those also with usually good results. The technique is a little different than with azaleas, which have dormant growth buds all up and down their stems.

Growth buds on rhododendrons form in the leaf axils, where leaf joins stem. Leaves are produced in clusters or rosettes at the ends of branches where they persist for several years - with a rosette at the branch terminal and others lower on the branch with bare stem between each rosette.
If you need to perform minor pruning to shape your rhododendron, make your cuts just above a leaf rosette and new growth will emerge from dormant eyes there.

If you have to cut into a branch below any leaf rosettes, look for faint rings on the bark which mark the ends of previous growth periods where there once were leaves. Careful inspection should reveal small bumps which are growth buds under the bark. Make your cuts just above the rings, so that dormant buds below them will be stimulated into growth.

If you can't find and rings or dormant buds, make your cuts wherever you must in order to shape your rhododendron; later when new growth starts, go back and remove all stubs above new growth.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2005 at 5:21PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
pennyviolet(z5 CT)

Thank you, Mor,
I guess I have a project for the weekend! Some of the shrubs are healthy, but two have a lot of brown leaves, and their branches are very leggy, trailing on the ground in places. They're in a grove with some mountain laurel which is just about to bloom, so it will be a delicate operation. Wish me luck!

    Bookmark   June 11, 2005 at 10:37AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I'm in the same boat with massive azaleas that are probably 40+ years old. They are located on a hill side across a creek from the house so size is not the issue. The problem is they have begun to die out. A branch here and a branch there. Could this hard pruning be the answer for this? We had been told by a supposed expert that we would just have to rip them out and start over but I have begun to question other "solutions" that this expert suggested for other problems. Thanks for your help!

    Bookmark   June 11, 2005 at 7:56PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I would like to prune my Azaleas down about 12-15 inches. I live in the Washington DC area and my plants have just started flowering. What is the best time to prune them down so they will shoot and flower come spring 2009? Should I prune them down immediately after this current round of flowering or wait till late spring or early summer?

    Bookmark   April 28, 2008 at 11:48AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I pruned about 20 overgrown azaleas last year right after flowering down to 1ft to 18 inches or so. They came back wonderfully but didn't flower much at all this year even though I pruned at the correct time last year, I believe it was just due to the stress. Anyway, I just went over them this week for the first time since last year and pruned some of the longer shoots back to encourage more branching. I hope to have an awesome show of flowers next spring.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2008 at 9:56AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

It's Sept and my azaleas and Rhododendren are enormous, taking over the front and back yard. I've got my 22 year old son here for 1 more week. Is it a bad idea to cut them back now instead of waiting for spring? While we're on overgrown, the same thing has happened to 2 rose bushes, what's the deal on pruning them. Thanks

    Bookmark   September 7, 2008 at 9:42PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
morz8(Washington Coast Z8b)

jrodes, the broad answer is Yes, a bad idea. You don't say what garden zone you are in, but -

Your rhododendrons and azaleas have already set their buds for next Springs flowers, pruning now removes those. Even if you are not interested in the flowers, pruning stimulates dormant growth buds to break and begin to grow. It takes approx 6 weeks for growth buds on smaller branches of rhododendrons to emerge, and as many as 10 weeks on larger main stems. That takes you into November, where new growth could be damaged by cold. This is a mild Zone 8b, and I wouldn't do it here.

The topic of rose pruning is huge, but in a nutshell - again, the time of year for pruning roses depends on where you live. It is a good idea to prune back long canes in the fall before winter winds and storms can cause windrock or loosening of the roots. Usually the best time to prune is in the early spring just as you see the new growth beginning to bud.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2008 at 5:02PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I have azaleas that are pretty much dead looking in front yard, they were like this when we bought our house two years ago. It is now fall and I am not sure what to do. My husband wants to pull them out of the ground, but I would like to save them. Is it too late to cut them back, should I wait until spring next year or call it quits and pull them out of the ground. They are at least 10 years old. Thank you.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2008 at 3:16PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
morz8(Washington Coast Z8b)

Erica, you don't say which gardening zone you are in - we have no way of knowing what type of winters you experience.

It's hard to know if they are worth saving without a photo. Have you taken steps to improve these or as with many, been busy with more pressing details of moving into a new home...

If grown in soils with the approximately correct ph, a good mulch of the root zone and water during dry periods can go a long ways toward promoting azalea health. This isn't the ideal time to prune, Spring after flowering (or even before flowering if you wish) would be best for cutting them back, especially if you want to do a hard renovative prune.

    Bookmark   October 9, 2008 at 6:39PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thank you. I live in zone 7. No, we have not done anything to our azaleas since we moved except mulch the beds and water them. I will take your advice and not prune until next year.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2008 at 10:05AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I live in Seattle. We inherited a number of older azaleas (15+ years) that for the past two seasons have produced new growth (and flowering) above what I would describe as dead (almost rotted) wood. From what I've been reading, sounds like drastic pruning is in order. It's early Feb... can I do that now, or do I need to wait until after the blooming season? Any guidance would be much appreciated. Thank you!

    Bookmark   February 5, 2009 at 3:26PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

Pruning now will remove all of the buds for this spring's flowers. If you wait until after they bloom, you can enjoy flowers this year and also next year. To avoid the dead wood inside, when you prune the plant you need to open up the plant so that air and light can get into the plant. Problems such as disease, fungi, etc., come about when you use hedge pruners and just shear the outside part. Then the outside is dense and blocks light and air from keeping the inside of the plant healthy.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2009 at 10:10AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I have white on my azalea leaves?

    Bookmark   March 6, 2009 at 4:45PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Hello all. So I realize that this same question has been asked already in this thread, but ... I, too, have some dead-looking azaleas and a couple that have leafed and flowered rather sparsely the last couple of years. I really want to rejuvenate them in the hopes that they will look better next spring. Is it too late to cut them back??? It usually stays pretty warm here until November.


    Bookmark   August 5, 2009 at 3:12PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
morz8(Washington Coast Z8b)

Laura, first - do you know or could you give us some clues as to why they are sparse and not blooming fully? A couple of reasons could be drought, or too much shade and pruning won't overcome either if those conditions haven't been improved...

In your climate, you could hard prune them now but you'd need to be aware you would probably be removing any chance of flowering next Spring as there wouldn't be time for bud set on new growth. It wouldn't harm the plants, but you would sacrifice next years flowers if those are important to you.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2009 at 4:24PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thanks for the great suggestions. For the plant that looks the worst, shade could be the problem. There are several growing along the back (south) side of my house and the one that looks so bad is kind of in the back. The azaleas around it flower beautifully. The other two that look rather sparse are at the back end of my yard and get a good deal of sun. They could have been dry, although we've had a good amount of rain this year. This year they filled out more than last year, but still not very much. I have no idea how old they are as they were already here when we bought our house 4 years ago.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2009 at 11:14PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
singleton165(z5 NH Seacoast)

There has been some wonderful advise here, thanks!

    Bookmark   August 8, 2009 at 12:39PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I would like to perform extensive rejuvenation pruning AND relocate my 20+ yr azaleas. It is early October in zone 7. What should I do first? How soon can I do the second step?

    Bookmark   October 7, 2010 at 1:49PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I have several azaleas that are at least 40 years old. They are very overgrown and some places on each bush appears totally dead. After reading the comments here I am considering drastic pruning, but have a few reservations. First, do I have to prune down to 6 inches? I was considering selling next year and don't want to have tiny nub bushes in the front of the house if I do. Second, the branches on these bushes are at least an inch thick in places, so how do you get a sharp cut? Is there a particular tool you reccommend? The alive looking parts are blooming now, so I'd like to know soon so I can get started. Thanks!

    Bookmark   April 8, 2011 at 5:59PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

Don't drastic prune if they are in heavy shade. They may not come back. The more sun they have the more likely they are to come back. You can prune back as far as you want if they are healthy and in good light.

I like ratchet pruning shears. They will easily handle a 1" branch. Otherwise use a saw.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2011 at 6:45PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Well, I did it- and I found other issues. Trees are, as my grandmother calls it, "coming up volunteer" so close to the azalea roots that you can't tell one from the other without looking at the foliage. Also there is some sort of really angry thorny vine that has grown all throughout the inner branches...? Am not sure how to uproot either without causing damage to my now-fragile looking azaleas.

As for light, they get fairly good sun during midday for a few hours. They are on the north side of the house, but no trees overhead. Trees are about 30 feet to the east and west proving shade in the morning and afternoon... But at this point that might be moot bc I have tried gentle and less than total pruning the last few years to no avail...so I did the drastic prune this morning.

Any advice on the vines and volunteer trees?

    Bookmark   April 10, 2011 at 1:57PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Wow!, I think I made a big mistake. I should have read this first. I have some 1 and 2 year old Azaleas that looked really scraggly and I thought cutting them back would make them fill out. I didn't realize that I cut off the blooms. I cut them back to about 6".

Let me know if there is any thing else I can do.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2011 at 6:28PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

All you can do is wait until next year.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2011 at 5:07PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

This thread has been an education for me. I just bought 6 azaleas on sale and they are really ratty looking. Can they be drastically pruned while in pots as well? A side bonus is that I can keep them in the sun after pruning them.
Any help would be appreciated.


    Bookmark   May 10, 2011 at 1:02PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

Potted azaleas aren't candidates for drastic pruning. Drastic pruning is to remove sections where a number of years worth of growth is bad and throws the entire plant out of balance.

Potted plants only have a couple years of growth. You can prune for shape and to encourage branching. But drastic pruning doesn't have any purpose. A year or two of growth can completely reshape a small plant. If there are long branches that you don't like, cut them back, but that is all you need.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2011 at 6:45PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Our 10 yr old azaleas have suffered from lace bugs for the past 4 years. Spraying with Immunox has helped some, but never completely gets rid of the pests. This summer has brought forth more bugs and diseases than we have ever had. Can I do a drastic pruning now(about 30 or more large tree type)? I am thinking about burning the trimming; Is this a good idea?
Thank you!

    Bookmark   August 8, 2011 at 10:04AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Good evening girls and boys... I just bought an older home that has a rediculous (in a good way) amount of azaleas in a rainbow of colors, and I love them all. There's a possibility that some if not all of them could be 40-50 years old.... unfortunately they have been neglected for many years now. Despite the fact I think they are magnificent they are a bit unruly and need to be tamed! I'm not so sure I want to prune them drastically, because I don't want little baby azaleas, I'd like to just take them down to a reasonible size, so to what point should I trim to? When is the best time to do it? When could I expect to have leaves and blooms again? Also, I want to transplant some of them before the "man of the house" gets carried away with his chainsaw. Thank you to whomever can help me out..I'll be waiting.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2012 at 10:13PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I've been reading this thread....and I fear the worst :(
Yesterday ( July 29, 2012 ) in a frenzy, I literally almost cut down an azalea bush that has been on our property for over 40 years. The thing was over seven feet tall and just taking over the walkway to our back door. I started what I thought was pruning (without doing ANY research on the subject) and began cutting away branch after branch. The leaves were only on the very outside of the bush, about three inches deep, but I wanted to trim the whole bush by about two feet. So even when I cut a little bit, all that was left were bare, gnarly branches. Now the thing looks bald and half dead. The tippy top is still covered in leaves, so hopefully those young buds will bloom next year, but what about the rest? I'm afraid I may have killed it. My family is gonna kill me :( I will take a picture and upload. Any support or encouragement will be welcomed. Sincerely, The Bush Killer.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2012 at 6:16PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

If the plant was healthy and gets a fair amount of sun, it will probably be OK, but don't expect any flowers next year. You don't mention what climate zone you are in. One serious problem will be whether new growth hardens off before the winter freezes come. You will (hopefully) have a lot of new growth coming out this fall when the plan should be going dormant and hardening off for winter. There is nothing you can do about it except DO NOT FERTILIZE. You can mulch now and water if there is a very dry spell, but nothing else.

Wait until next spring before you do any more. You may want to fertilize then with a good azalea fertilizer with organic nitrogen like HollyTone. If you do, only apply once at half the rate on the package. If the sides leaf out, it would be good to cut back the top so the energy is diverted to the lower parts and not taken for terminal growth on top.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2012 at 4:32PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
help! trying to identify the issue...
I live in Tulsa Oklahoma (zone 7) and purchased these...
Is this a rhododendron?
Moved here in July. Still trying to figure this out....
Tiny white specks on Rhododendron?
I have a 6 year old rhododendron (Virginia Richards)...
rhododendron macabeanum
I am having a friend send me one of these over from...
Mid-Atlantic: What are the most evergreen azaleas?
Unfortunately most of my azaleas are not named. But...
Dave in NoVA • 7a • Northern VA
Sponsored Products
Ivy Ball on Stem - 4-1/4"H
$39.50 | FRONTGATE
Vitra | Park Sofa, Two-Seater Sofa
White Ceramic Pottery Round Toilet Brush Holder in Assorted Colors
"Leland" Square Frame - AZALEA
$100.00 | Horchow
Meticulously Woven Azalea Floral Area Rug (5' x 8')
Gilmour Dual Shut Off Aluminum Valve Connector - 1403-7972
$23.99 | Hayneedle
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™