Overgrown azalea...
May 22, 2011 3:13 PM   Subscribe

[AzaleaFilter]We have a beautiful azalea plant in front of our front porch. It has amazing blossoms for about two weeks, which have now all fallen off. Best way to prune this bush (special snowflake details inside)...

I know that this is the best time to prune this bush. The "snowflakeness" is that I've allowed this azalea to grow to about seven feet high or so. Looking to take about a foot to 18 inches off of the top (and some on the sides). Should I prune the bush flat across the top, or go for more of a "bush" shape? If I can go "flat," could I use electric hedge trimmers to make this an easier job?
posted by kuanes to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
this is not specific to azaleas, but "flat-topping" a shrub tends to make the top wider than the base, which minimizes sun to the lower branches. Instead, try to do a rounded top. I've also read that azaleas don't NEED to be pruned, unless size is a problem.
posted by reverend cuttle at 3:38 PM on May 22, 2011

Prune it in the fall. It needs its leaves to build up reserves for the winter. In the fall it will be going dormant and pruning will not bother it so much. Make more shapely by careful pruning. Don't just chop it into a shape. Nothing worse for a plant than chopping it into a ball or a box. Aim for a graceful natural shape.
posted by fifilaru at 3:42 PM on May 22, 2011

Best answer: Please don't use hedge clippers!!

From Clemson University's horticulture extension:

There are two pruning techniques used for azaleas: thinning and heading. Thinning refers to the removal of branches back to the main trunk or another branch. This method is used to remove leggy branches that extend beyond the canopy of the plant, remove damaged or diseased wood, or reduce the size of the plant. Thinning allows light to penetrate the shrub, encouraging growth on interior branches. You can thin at any time of the year without causing significant impact on flowering, growth or cold hardiness of the plant. However, to reduce the impact on flowers the following year, prune just after flowering in the spring.

Heading refers to the cutting back of a branch, not necessarily to a side branch. This method is used to reduce the size of a plant, create a hedge or to renew old overgrown plants. Renew overgrown plants by cutting them back to within 6 to 12 inches of ground level. This practice results in abundant new growth by midsummer.

The best time to renew azaleas is before spring growth begins. This allows sufficient time for next year’s flower buds to form in midsummer, and for new growth to mature and harden off for winter. Renewal pruning before spring growth, of course, means that flowers are sacrificed for that year.

After renewal pruning, prune the tips of new shoots when they are 6 to 12 inches long, to encourage branching and a full canopy. Thin out new shoots emerging from the old stem. Keep the soil moist during the period after severe pruning.

posted by Sweetie Darling at 4:51 PM on May 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

The best thing to do if you want to take it back that hard, is to do do a little at a time, and don't cut back to bare wood, unless you are thinning. Just flattening the top is unnatural; the top will grow in twice as thick and shade out the rest. Do some thinning up top to let light in and stimulate latent buds. Then about two weeks later you can cut back to the last leaf on any stem. Do this all over, lower down on top, less so around the circumference. Use hand clippers, not power tools. Right after flowering is the best time to prune. Do not remove more than 30% of the plant in a year if you don't want to weaken it.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:17 PM on May 22, 2011

If you cut in spring before growth begins be prepared to sacrifice that year's flower crop. When I worked in nurseries, we always pruned immediately after the bloom. In my experience, azaleas will come back from damn near anything you do, although the rule of thumb we used was "not more than 1/3". Mind, this was in zone 8 (where azaleas are semi-evergreen, and most do not go fully dormant)). If you live in a harsher environment, I suppose their resilience could be less dependable.
posted by Ys at 5:37 PM on May 22, 2011

Why do you want to prune it? Is it obstructing something? What purpose are you hoping to fulfill?
posted by Red Loop at 6:45 PM on May 22, 2011

Response by poster: @Red Loop - It needs to be pruned, as it has reached 7+ feet in height and is crowding out a portion of our sidewalk.
posted by kuanes at 4:46 AM on May 23, 2011

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