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How to Give Old Azaleas a Fresh Start: Pruning Azaleas


How to Give Old Azaleas a Fresh Start: Pruning Azaleas

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Not sure how to prune azaleas or even if your old azaleas are worth pruning? I’ve got you covered!

Why Prune Azaleas?

What shrub erupts into beautiful blooms for several weeks in the spring then instantly reverts back into a boring shrub? That’s right, the azalea. Being from the south, I have a bit of allegiance to this classic southern plant. But let me tell you, when they’re done blooming, but still holding onto wilting brown flowers, they can be tough to love. Not to mention that many older homes, including ours, have yards slap-full (that’s a technical term) of these temporarily pretty plants.

When to Cut Back Azaleas

As with most plants, knowing when to cut back azaleas is important. And the answer is similar for many plants and shrubs. Immediately after blooming is the best time to cut back or trim azaleas. Younger, more compact azaleas should be easy to cut back and shape up.

But what about those old, old shrubs? The trouble with older azaleas begins with their shape. They’re hard to shape up without having bare spots and noticeable holes. The fact that I can see the side of our house through the plant is a problem. Years of trimming and shaping have left leaves just on the ends of branches and no real fullness to the shrub.

If you’re not sure how to prune azaleas, you can certainly trim here and there to shape them up. But what if your poor plant, like mine, needs a complete overhaul? Unlike other flowering plants, such as the hydrangea, azaleas don’t need yearly cutting back. But could my plants benefit from being completely cut down? (Pruning works for many plants, including basil. Find out how to prune your herbs here!)

While we’ve pulled up five or six azaleas over the past few years, I wondered if it was possible to bring new life to the remaining older plants. They still bloomed every year, so I knew that they were relatively healthy. To test my “grow back better” theory, I chose a bed on the side of our house with three overgrown and honestly, ugly, azaleas. (At least on the side of the house, fewer people would be a witness to my shrub slaughter and potential gardening disaster.)

How to Prune Azaleas

I’d like to say that the process was super complicated. But in all honesty, I simply used a good hand saw for pruning azaleas back to four or five inches from the ground.

The bonus of cutting any plant back this far is the ease of cleaning up any vines and weeds growing up around the shrub. You can see that the azaleas are still healthy by the color of the cut sides. No dead wood here.

Now, waiting for your azaleas to grow back may take some time. I cut these particular azaleas back over a year ago. Though you will begin to see new growth just weeks after cutting back, patience is key. I gently shaped up the new growth several times. And now I have three very vibrant azaleas in place of the overgrown mess that was there before.

Not too shabby considering these azaleas are quite old. It didn’t cost me anything (but labor) to have what looks like new plants growing in our side yard. I know our next door neighbors are glad they’ve grown back. I’m sure they’d given up all hope of ever seeing a nice looking bed on their side of our house. Some azaleas I’ll choose to dig up simply for some variety in our yard, but overall, I’m very pleased that these grew back so healthy and full.

I’d love to know if you’ve had success pruning azaleas or other shrubs to give them new life! Happy Gardening!

Pruning azaleas can give tired, old azalea plants a fresh start. It’s so easy!

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