Grovetown gardener Judy Kirkland only prunes her azaleas when they become too large or are out of shape.
That’s exactly what the
University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service recommends: pruning azaleas with a purpose in mind, and not because the seasonal gardening calendar says it’s time to do so.
“Some plants may need pruning to remove tall, lanky growth or vigorous suckers that detract from the overall form and shape of the plant,” notes a publication from the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “It may be desirable to prune to maintain a more compact form.”
The publication also emphasizes that healthy azaleas can be pruned to within “6 to 12 inches of ground level and will respond with an abundance of new shoots growing from the old wood.”
Many azaleas around the Augusta area bloom in the spring, and experts warn against pruning spring-flowering azaleas after July 1. Because they begin forming their blossom buds for the coming year in the summer, it’s important to prune them now.
The extension service says that there are two pruning techniques for azaleas. One is heading, cutting back branches to a uniform length, and thinning, a complete removal of a branch back to another branch, bud or main trunk.
Experts agree that the thinning method is preferred, as it allows greater air flow and minimizes diseases. Also, with this method, the plant requires less routine maintenance.
Now is also the time to fertilize azaleas. While many gardeners believe azaleas don’t need additional fertilization other that what is already in the soil, experts suggest getting a soil test to determine if extra amendments are needed.
If the soil test concludes fertilization is needed, an azalea/camellia specialty fertilizer or general plant fertilizer can be applied after spring blooming. A second round of limited fertilization can be done in June. As with pruning, fertilization should be done prior to July 1.
“Fertilizing azaleas should be based on how the plant appears and what you want to accomplish with it,” writes Walter Reeves, a garden expert and writer known as The Georgia Gardener. “Old, established shrubs don’t need much food. A tablespoon of 10-10-10 per foot of height is sufficient for the year. Young plants need more food so feed them four times, at the same rate, during the growing season.”