What shrub erupts into beautiful blooms for several weeks in the spring and then instantly reverts back into boring shrub status? 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 super technical term) of these temporarily pretty plants. 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.
While we’ve taken out five or six azaleas completely over the past few years, I wondered if it was possible to bring new life to these older plants. They still bloomed every year, so I knew that they were relatively healthy. So 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 Cut Back an Azalea
I’d like to say that the process was super complicated and I had to really use a lot of my brain power to think this through, but in all honesty, I simply used a good hand saw to cut them back to four or five inches from the ground.
The bonus of cutting any plant back this far is that you are able to clean up any vines and weeds that have grown up around the shrub over the years. You can clearly 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. After gently shaping up the new growth several times, I have three very vibrant azaleas in the place of the overgrown mess that was there before.
Not too shabby considering these azaleas are quite old. And it didn’t cost me anything (but a little 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 thought we’d given up all hope of ever having a nice looking bed on their side of our house. There will still be some azaleas I’ll choose to dig up completely 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 cutting back plants and shrubs to give them new life! Happy Gardening!