Azaleas are slow-growing, evergreen flowering shrubs. The flowers come in varying shades of pink, purple, lilac, and reddish-orange.
Most azaleas bloom in spring, typically April through May in the Northern hemisphere. There are certain varieties that bloom in late summer and early autumn. Azaleas prefer shady areas, where they reach a height of 5–6 feet.
It is beneficial to trim azaleas to encourage new growth, to allow air to circulate around the plant, and to prevent disease from spreading.
When to Prune Azaleas
The best time to prune azaleas is as soon as the flowers die off, which is usually towards the end of spring or in early summer – late June in the Northern hemisphere.
Pruning azaleas before new buds begin to sprout encourages new growth and ensures a full show of azalea blooms in the next flowering season.
For azaleas that need to be trimmed drastically, prune the azalea plant in the winter when the flowering season is completely over.
When Not to Prune Azaleas
Don’t prune azaleas in midsummer, after new buds have started forming. Azaleas start to develop new buds at the beginning of July. Pruning after new buds appear prevents the shrub from flowering the following year.
How to Prune Azaleas
The following equipment is essential for pruning azaleas:
- Hand clippers – Hand clippers are small and easy to grip, giving you good control when cutting off dead flower heads
- Loopers – Loopers are bigger than hand clippers and are useful for cutting through thick stems, and for reaching higher dead heads that are beyond your reach
- Gardening gloves – Pruning is hard work that requires a firm grip on the clippers. Gardening gloves help to protect your hands against blisters and grazes
The blades of the clippers should be cleaned meticulously after every use to ensure that they don’t spread disease among your azaleas. Fungal diseases are easily transmitted by using dirty pruning tools.
Azaleas generally don’t need drastic pruning. To keep azalea bushes healthy and a comfortable size, they should be gently thinned and shaped. Follow these steps when pruning azaleas:
- Wait until the azalea flowers start to shrivel and lose their color, towards the end of spring, before attempting to prune
- Cut off dead flower heads just below the bloom. Cutting any lower than this damages the new buds that are starting to form, and prevents the shrub from flowering the following year
- Cut off any dead stems and branches. Dead stems and branches inhibit the growth of the plant and affect its ability to produce new blossoms
- Moderately trim live stems and branches to shape the shrub to your desired shape. Don’t remove more than one-third of any live branch or stem
- If your azalea shrub is looking too sparse, you can rejuvenate the shrub by cutting back three or four of its biggest branches by up to half of its original length. Continue to trim the balance of the branches by shaping them gently
For overgrown azaleas that do require a drastic trim, cut two or three of the older branches down to the lowest point. A hard prune is necessary if the azalea plant doesn’t look full and only has foliage on the outer sides of the branches. Pruning some of the older branches more drastically encourages new growth. Remember, hard pruning like this should be done in winter after the flowering season.
Can You Cut Azaleas to the Ground?
No, you can’t cut azaleas to the ground because such drastic cutting weakens the plant and makes it susceptible to disease. You run the risk of killing the plant completely if you cut an azalea to the ground.
Even if the plant doesn’t die from such drastic cutting, an azalea that has been cut to the ground isn’t likely to bloom again for at least three years.
How Much Can You Cut Back Azalea Bushes?
You can cut back azalea bushes to no less than 12 inches. Cutting azaleas lower than 12 inches reduces the chances of the plant flowering the following year and increases the risk of the plant dying.