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Azaleas don’t actually need pruning. However, here’s what to do if you ever need to remove dead or diseased branches, revitalise the azalea, control your plant’s shape or tidy it up a bit. Always use a light hand when you prune azaleas and always prune straight after they have flowered. Pruning too late in the season will remove the flowering shoots that will provide next year’s flowers. Personally, I NEVER prune Azaleas after the start of July.
Sterilise your cutting tools
You don’t want to transfer diseases from one plant to another or even between different parts of the same plant. Sterilise your cutting tools at the start and frequently throughout the pruning process. I usually use a little bleach mixed with warm water to clean my secateurs.
Remove dead or diseased branches
Do this at any time of the year, when you first notice the problem. Follow the dead or diseased branches back down towards the bottom of the plant. Find where the new growth (if any) starts and cut 1cm or so into the green wood. This ensures that you remove all the diseased part. If the branch is dead all the way down to the root, cut it as low to the ground as you can.
Revitalise the plant
If your azalea plant’s gone through a tough time of diseases and stunted growth, you may need to give it a push in the right growing direction. This is the most aggressive pruning you will do.
Cut the plant back to about 20 to 25cm above the ground. Yes, that’s the whole plant. However, you may want to leave one or two stems long as a source of energy for new growth. But when everything is growing well again, cut these stems back too. To encourage the plant to create more sub-branches, prune the ends of new growth back by 15cm.
Water this newly cut back plant well for its first growing season in this state. I would also apply some fertiliser to encourage new growth.
Control your plant’s shape
Prune azaleas to keep them growing in the right direction lightly. Do this after the flowering in the spring has finished. Decide which part or side of the plant is not growing as you want it to and carefully prune that. Follow a branch down to just above where you can see new growth and cut about 1cm above that.
Always take a moment to stand back after every cut to be sure that you’re trimming the plant evenly. Don’t cut too much at one time or from one place.
Tidy the plant up
Even if you’re just going to tidy the plant up a bit by snipping a branch here and there, wait until the flowers have finished in the late spring. Be careful not to cut too far down each branch as there’s a chance you may cut off new buds and foliage. If you get carried away when pruning in the later months, there’s a chance you can remove all next year’s buds. You will be left with a bloomless plant come the next spring.
Pruning azaleas lightly encourages the plant to grow fuller and bushier.
Even though it’s not pruning as such, I just want to saw a few words about deadheading azaleas. Deadheading is just removing the blooms when they’re finished. Although this does make the plant look neater and tidier, there’s also a gardening reason for doing this. Without these old and wasted flowers, the plant can expend all its energy on new growth instead of using some to create seeds in those flowers.