Azalea shearedPruning Time For Flowering Plants Is Important

Homeowners will often select a plant because of the exceptional bloom it has.  They’ll look forward to it all year.  But Mrs. Gotrocks is really bummed this spring.  Her azalea has hardly bloomed at all.

Hmmm.  Plant looks nice and healthy.  Good color in the leaves, and it does get fed each year.

Fact: A plant will not flower without a “flower bud”.

This plant is just fine – it couldn’t be healthier.  Problem: Its flowering cycle is being interrupted.

In the spring the azalea should flower following its normal schedule.  Soon after flowering it begins to produce the flower buds for next year’s bloom. What’s happening here is the azalea is being pruned too late in the season and the flower buds for next year are being cut off in the process.

Azaleas, like other flowering plants, have a “cycle” they follow through the year.  It’s important to know this cycle and when the plant develops flower buds, before you prune.

When You Prune Is As Important As How You Prune

Being aware of the different plants on your property and knowing their cycle is great information to have.  You can then note the plants that will need pruning and schedule it at the right time.

These azaleas (see pic above) are well spaced and have room to grow.  That’s a plus right from the start.  I would not be anxious to prune these plants, but rather let them grow naturally.  Their beauty lies in their natural form.  Also, they’ll flower beautifully each year with their flower buds intact.

Azalea sheared

Azalea incorrectly pruned by shearing.

What if the azalea needs to be pruned?

You can preserve the “natural” look of the azalea by selectively pruning the faster growing, dominant branches.  Make these individual cuts with a hand pruner just above leaves and/or junction points where branches connect.

Time this pruning soon after the azalea has finished blooming.  This way the plant can then go about producing its flower buds for next year without having them cut off later in the season.

The last picture here shows an azalea close-up that was sheared rather than selectively pruned.  You can see both leaves and stems cut randomly by the general path of the shear.  Not only is this unhealthy for the plant, but it also looks like %$&@.

Isn’t it amazing how different plants can be from one another?  We really need to know and understand these differences because in the finished landscape we’re trying to manage what should be the natural cycles of these plants.

I’m always here to help.  If you have a question or comment feel free to enter it below.

  • Fred
    12:05 PM, 17 June 2010

    I have a bunch of spirea planted on a slope and its looking overgrown. They are even starting to grow over other plants. There are pinkish flowers now but I don’t know exactly their name. Can I prune them and how much can I cut off? Thanks, Fred.

  • Jessica
    10:11 PM, 17 July 2010

    We had 4 beautiful azaleas that were badly damaged in hail storms this spring. We had just planted them last year. The leaves are slowly coming back… but they are still very sparse. Also, it no longer really has a bushy shape. It almost looks like someone took all of the branches and pushed them down… leaving a large hole or gap in the middle of the plant. Do you think they will fill back in? Or for the pretty shape are we going to have to start over?

    • Roger
      10:10 PM, 18 July 2010

      Hi Jessica,
      Of course I’d be better able to give an opinion if I saw the azaleas. Generally, azaleas can recover. The good news here is the damage was “breakage” and not disease, insect or some other damage that would affect the plant’s basic health (and its ability to recover).

      For the plant to regrow into the open space where it had once been is going to take some time. Azaleas are woody plants that are “moderate” growers (not fast, and not slow). Each year they’ll have their growth stretch after flowering and “that’s it” until the following year.

      If this is a prominent spot in your yard, you may want to transplant them to a less prominent spot and let them recover there. Of course you’d have to get new plants and maybe that’s an expense you’d rather avoid.

      My yard is filled with plants I’ve “rescued” from job sites for various reasons and ailments. I enjoy the challenge of having them not only survive, but really turn into attractive plants.

      On renovation projects we invariably come across existing plants that are not attractive enough to be “center-stage” in the new re-design, so we look for areas of the yard where we can replant them with the hope & belief they’ll recover.

      Oh, and one last point. Think about “selectively” pruning the ends of the lower branches to “encourage” the plant to push growth where you need it. Make sure you make your cuts just above leaf nodes and/or just above where a lateral branch connects.

      Good luck with them!

  • Scott
    7:41 PM, 30 March 2012

    I have encore azalias that were starting to bloom. We had a nasty hail storm and most of the leaves and flowers were stripped. Should I prune to promote leaf growth or naturally let them heal. I also had the same problem with my knockout roses. My yard went from Amen Corner at Augusta National to a yard that appears was hit with agent orange.

    • Roger
      11:02 PM, 30 March 2012

      Hi Scott,
      Sorry to hear about the storm damage on your landscape. It’s likely all will recover in time. I would only prune where branches are broken. My thought would be to let the plant(s) recover on their own – perhaps fertilize with an organic based fertilizer. Be conscious of rainfall amount and frequency and supplement with irrigation if things get dry (e.g. 10 – 14 days w/o significant rain). Next spring, once they’re healthy and “back to normal,” you can prune to improve shape. The azaleas would be ideally pruned soon after their spring flowering, and the roses could be pruned earlier than that.

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