Azaleas are a staple of traditional southern landscapes. They are prized for their graceful form and showy flower displays. They are also known for the variety of colors and bloom types. In the Augusta area, they have become a gardeners “must have” plant for the landscape.
There are several hundred registered azalea varieties, and hobbyist hybridizers have created many more varieties in their own gardens. Most of the azaleas in the Augusta area are the spring-flowering varieties. These azaleas will usually begin blooming in March or April and will end the bloom period in late April or early May.
The best time to prune your azaleas is after they bloom. Pruning can occur immediately after the blooms have faded or it can be delayed until late June. Azaleas form flower buds for next year’s blooms during early summer if they receive adequate moisture. In Georgia, it’s recommended to complete all major pruning needs no later than July 1. This gives your azaleas time to recover before setting blooms for next spring’s flower show. It might be necessary later in the year to prune your azaleas for aesthetic purposes. They will often have long, unsightly branches late in the season which won’t produce buds and will need to be taken out.
Young azaleas can be pruned several times in their first few years of growth to achieve the desired canopy and overall plant shape. Pruning the tips of branches after five to six inches of new growth will encourage more branching. This will result in a lush canopy and more blooms. Only prune azaleas if there is a real need. It is best to use hand pruners or two-handed loppers to make most of your pruning cuts. Avoid the use of the mechanical pruning shears when pruning azaleas. In my opinion, their natural form is a big part of their beauty, and the pruning shears aren’t conducive to maintaining that appearance. If the azalea bushes are overgrown or need rejuvenation, they can be cut back six to 12 inches from the ground. Healthy plants should respond with many new shoots sprouting from the old wood.
The best time to fertilize your azaleas is also just after they bloom. Azaleas can be easily damaged by excess fertilizing so be cautious in application. Typically, azaleas do not require fertilization because they are able to obtain needed nutrients from the surrounding decaying soil matter. If you think your azaleas need fertilizer, it is best to consult the results of a soil test. Specialty fertilizer is available which is formulated for the needs of azaleas and camellias. Consult the manufacturer’s packaging for application rates. Broadcast the fertilizer over an area six inches from the trunk to just beyond the edge of the canopy. Always apply fertilizer to azaleas when the plant’s leaves are dry. Excess granules or liquid can get into leaf buds and burn them. Always brush off or wash away excess fertilizer on the leaf surface after an application to avoid the potential for leaf burn.
Follow these tips to enjoy more blooms and healthier plants next spring.
Tripp Williams, Columbia County’s agriculture and natural resource extension agent, can be reached at (706) 541-4011, or firstname.lastname@example.org.