Azaleas are beautiful flowering shrubs popular for landscaping, but without proper pruning they can occasionally get shaggy and overgrown. Fortunately, it's easy to keep these shrubs in top shape so they always look their very best.
Azaleas are part of the plant family Ericaceae, the family that also includes rhododendrons, cranberries, huckleberries and some varieties of heaths and heathers. They are spring-blooming shrubs with a mounding shape, and because they are shade-tolerant, azaleas do well when planted beneath mature trees. These are slow-growing shrubs that prefer well-drained, somewhat acidic soil to thrive.
There are more than 10,000 cultivars of azaleas worldwide, with great variation in terms of their mature sizes. The most typical azalea colors are reds and pinks, including coral and very bright fuschia shades, but they are also found in whites, yellows, purplish hues and variegated patterns. The amount of fragrance varies among cultivars.
Azaleas are so popular that there are even festivals dedicated to these beautiful spring shrubs. While a local azalea festival may be found just about anywhere these shrubs are popular, the most festivals are held in Japan, Hong Kong and in the United States, stretching from Florida to New Jersey to Oregon to Texas, with many azalea festivals in between.
Proper Azalea Pruning
Azaleas are easy to prune, and in fact, if the shrub is planted in an area where it can reach its full growth without crowding, it may never need pruning at all. Many of these shrubs do outgrow smaller spaces, however, and pruning will be necessary to keep them contained and flowering well.
It is best to prune azaleas in late spring or early summer, after the flowers have finished blooming and are fading and wilting, but before new woody growth emerges. Pruning too late will remove next year's buds and diminish flowers the following spring. The exception is for any damaged branches, which can be removed at any time.
Because azaleas look best with a natural sprouting, graceful shape, they should never be pruned with hedge trimmers. Instead, opt for hand pruners for shaping and a small or medium branch lopper to reach deeper into the shrub or to remove larger branches. Pruning should be kept minimal, but long straggling branches often disrupt an azalea's form and can be removed by reaching deeply into the shrub and trimming them as short as possible. This will allow more air circulation and sunlight deeper into the plant to improve its health and minimize pests and diseases.
On rare occasions, an azalea bush will completely overgrow its space and should be heavily pruned. This involves cutting the shrub back to roughly 12 inches above the ground, removing all branches at once. Because this will be a shock to the plant, it is important to follow up with adequate fertilizing and watering to help promote new growth, which the plant will sprout from the remaining stumps. The next spring, those young suckers can be thinned out to encourage even more growth and keep the plant to an airy, natural shape and avoid too thick of a shrub.
Most importantly, formal shapes and intense shaping should be avoided with azalea bushes. When that type of heavy pruning is used, the following season's flowering will be spotty and show many awkward gaps that will be difficult to fill in.
Pruning azaleas doesn't have to be a challenge, and these easy-care shrubs are a favorite for all types of landscape designs. With some simple care and occasional trims, they will always look their very best.