Cutting back an Azalea bush...

sooey(7MA)June 30, 2007

Hi Kids,

How far back can I cut an azalea bush without killing it? I have two beauties that have gotten way too big. One is taller than me, 5' 5"...OK, 5' 4 & 1/2", and 8 times as fat. The other is smaller but still out of porportion. They are in an area I would like to re-claim. They both love the location so I would like to keep them where they are...just cut them back to a more reasonable size.

Any 'like' experience you could share? Thanks, Kids.


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I have a group of three azaleas, 30 years old. The cultivar is 'Mme. Butterfly', lavender, vigorous, evergreen, gorgeous. They too got way too tall and we prune them very hard every year. I have been lazy and used electric shears but of course the right way is to hand-prune them, branch by branch. I struggle to keep them at 4', tho I'd like them shorter. If I skip a year, they are easily 5.5' and I have no idea how tall they'd get if I ignored them.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2007 at 2:06PM
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You could cut them to any height you wish to, 1/3 to 1/2 of the former height is the common practice.
If you'll do that right now you'll loose most if not all of the next year blooms since buds had been already set.
Pruning after August is not advisible since new growth will have no time to harden enough to survive winter.
If you leave this project till next spring, prune them within 30 days after they finish blooming and and you'll not sucrifice anything.
If they are evergreen you could get away with mechanical/electrical shears, but if they are deciduous, hand pruning is in order.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2007 at 2:24PM
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rockman50(6b SEMASS)

I just discovered that 4 of my planters filled with a variety of annuals are infested with aphids. Can anyone recommend an effective way to eradicate these pests?

    Bookmark   June 30, 2007 at 6:08PM
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Thanks, ginny & ego,

You made me think, ginny...these two are 32 years old. They were planted along the side of the house when it was built in 1975. They were transplanted to their present location about 20 years ago when my Mom put on an addition.

ego, I think I am still within the 30 day window, post bloom. We are on the Cape so our azaleas are later blooming than what I was use to in CT. ...but then again...the deer always got them in CT so I really don't remember when they bloomed... These are evergreen.

Thanks, Kids. I'll take a good look before I make the first cut. It will be a drastic change and I know all the neighbors will be standing at their front doors...holding their breath or, tisk, tisk, tisking me the entire time...that crazy girl...

Thanks again.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2007 at 6:22PM
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"I'll take a good look before I make the first cut. "

If you are looking to reduce your 5'5" to say 3'6", I recommend to do it first time in a two stages,
-simply shear it to 4' and
-after that selectively hand prune it to the size and shape you desire.

Light shearing after the bloom every year will keep it in check, otherwise more hard pruning every other year will be in order.
Once upon a time this pair was in 7' range.
Now I keep red one at 6'+ and the white one at 4'+ by light shearing every year.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2007 at 8:43PM
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You know, there is a saying that the right time to prune is when the shears are sharp--which means any time you have the motivation. Now there really is a best-time-for-the-shrub time but if you're ready and in the mood, and don't mind having lesser bloom next spring, then just do it. George is right about the best time but sometimes I let things go for years because I keep missing that best time because it does not coincide with my motivation.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2007 at 12:20PM
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I like your thinking, ginny. I know these azaleas were still in bloom for at least most of the first full week of June. I just went out and looked and they are still coverd with spent blooms, some still soft. I see no bud set. I also see on the larger of the two, that if I do a hard prune of even 1/3 I will be left with sticks. But, it seems to me that if I want to get this bush back under control, more in scale with the rest of the area I am trying to re-claim, I need to take action.

Thanks, Kids. I'll keep you posted.


    Bookmark   July 1, 2007 at 1:38PM
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If your azaleas are healthy you will be able to prune back drastically, but you won't get a nice flower display for a few years while it's readjusting to the dimensions you want it to inhabit. Most shrubs won't do this, but you can sometimes cut an azlea back almost to ground level and still have it rejuvenate, although it takes a few years to do it. You should cut it back immediately after flowering finishes, or as soon thereafter as possible. This would probably be an acceptable weekend to do it. You may have to fertilize afterwards with an organic fertilizer and make sure the shrub stays appropriately watered if you get no rain. It will look pitiful at first, but you should get new growth back before the end of August (or September at the latest). Next year you can being lightly shaping that year's new growth.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2007 at 3:46PM
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Agree with everything YR said, except fertilizing.

In general azaleas and rhododendrons rarely need any fertilization since they are not heavy feeders...and if they are established and healthy shrubs they definitely don't need any more than they already have.
Overtfertilization of shrub going thru rejuvenation process will result in OVERproduction of fresh greenery which will not be able to harden till winter and thus will be dead by the next spring. Then you'll be back to square one.
You may want to fertilize it NEXT spring, but definitely not at this time of the year.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2007 at 12:03AM
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I agree with George. It's hard to resist the urge to feed shrubs after transplanting or hard pruning. A year or 2 ago I moved a big crape myrtle and accidentally lost all the soil around the roots in the process. I asked on the shrubs forum if I should hard prune it and add bone meal to the soil I'd planted it in, and got a unanimous and resounding NO in reply. I followed their instructions (reasonable amount of water and plenty of shade) although I was wringing my hands for the entire 2 weeks it took for the plant to recover. All's well that ends well ...

Resist the urge to feed or over-water the shrub after you hard prune it. Azaleas are tough cookies, very resilient, but they don't like being pushed.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2007 at 10:51AM
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FWIW, if I had fertilized I would have used an "organic" (which means slow release and not necessarily tons of nutrients) fertilizer rather than a "synthetic" one (since those are mineral salts that are much more quickly converted into chemical compounds roots will immediately take in whether the plant wants them at that moment or not).

    Bookmark   July 5, 2007 at 11:23AM
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The inside of my azalea bushes look like all dead wood. All the flowers are at the end of the branches. If I cut back there will be only dead-looking branches. Is this how it shoud be ?
Thanks in advance for your help.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2011 at 2:20PM
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If you want to stay away from pestacides. In the uk a common trick is to plant marrigolds. they give off a smell that aphids don't like. There an orange/yellow annual. I believe the french variety work best. Incidently the smell is not bad to us.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2011 at 5:23AM
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