Azaleas are best pruned in the spring right after they finish flowering. Unlike most other woody plants, they can sprout new growth anywhere along their stem (adventitious shoots) instead of at nodes, making this an easy task – like giving them a haircut. When pruning, make sure that you trim to keep the top narrower than the bottom to allow sunlight to reach the entire plant all the way to the base. Nothing is more unsightly than azaleas with bare, straggly stems and a full-flared top. Also avoid cutting them into box shapes or giving them flat tops; a smooth rounded shape looks a lot more natural and pleasing to the eye.
Don’t be afraid to cut back hard, if necessary; large overgrown specimens can be radically reduced in size by cutting them down to as low as a foot in height. They will start to flush new growth immediately after cutting back and tend to quickly fill out.
Cutting back should coincide with fertilization. Soil and water in our region tends to be on the alkaline side, so the use of an acidic fertilizer specifically targeted for azaleas is most beneficial – yellow, chlorotic growth and decline in the health of azaleas is usually an indication that conditions may not be acid enough. This is also a good time to apply a light coat of mulch to help protect the roots of newly-pruned plants from additional heat and drying out from exposure.
If you follow these guidelines and keep your plants well-watered during this process, your azaleas should be fully flushed out within about a month.
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