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Pruning azaleas

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There’s a couple of basic ways to go about pruning azaleas. You can quickly shape them with pruning shears or you can take a little more time and strategically remove only the taller shoots. The desired end result will help you make the decision as to which method to use.

Q. When and how should azaleas be pruned? My azaleas are leggy and open. I’d like for them to be fuller in appearance.

A. The best time to prune azaleas is in spring when their blooms have faded but before July. Azaleas begin flower bud initiation in late summer to early fall. So avoid pruning too late because doing so will either disrupt flower bud initiation or remove the dormant flower buds completely. The end result of pruning azaleas too late (after July) is few to no flowers the following spring.

There’s a couple of basic ways to go about pruning azaleas. You can quickly shape them with pruning shears or you can take a little more time and strategically remove only the taller shoots. The desired end result will help you make the decision as to which method to use.

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If you want a more formal looking plant, you may wish to shape the plant with shears. If you want a more natural looking plant, you can just take out the taller shoots. I usually prefer to mostly prune out the taller shoots through a series of thinning cuts. In doing this, I follow the taller shoots back into the plant and try to cut them where they originate.

In other words, I prune them where they come out of another branch or the main trunk with hand pruners. By doing this, I reduce the overall height without having to shear the plants. The end result is a more natural looking plant instead of one that looks like a ball or box from being sheared.

It’s important to know that the new growth produced as a result of a pruning cut is produced a few inches below the cut. So you’ll need to make strategic pruning cuts where you’d like the plant to fill in and be less leggy – remembering that new growth only occurs a few inches below each cut. You may need to come back after the new shoots reach eight to twelve inches in length and prune them back to stimulate new growth. This should result in a fuller/thicker less open plant. You should be able to do all this before July.

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You can strategically remove a few taller branches to help make the plant more uniform at any time without reducing flower production. But shearing or severely pruning azaleas after July will greatly reduce next spring’s flower production.

More information on azaleas is available at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mg019 or from the UF/IFAS Extension office in your County.

Larry Williams is the Extension horticulture agent with the Okaloosa County Cooperative Extension Service, University of Florida. Contact Larry at 689-5850 or email lwilliams@co.okaloosa.fl.us.

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