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Cutting Back Old 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.

how to prune azaleas

The Best Time to Prune 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.

Cutting back right after blooming gives the gardener a chance to get the dead blooms off of the plant and to shape up the shrub. If you wait and prune the azalea later in the year, there’s a chance that you could prune off next year’s blooms.

blooming azalea bushes growing under trees
Azaleas blooming in the spring

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Cutting Back Old Azaleas (Hard Pruning)

But what about those old, old azalea 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. (See my full post on Why and How to Prune Hydrangeas.) 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!)

how to prune azaleas
Old, leggy azalea

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 Hard Prune Azaleas

how to prune azaleas
Old azalea cut down to the base

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.

How to Shape Up Azaleas

If your azaleas are younger or have lots of new growth coming in, then chances are they just need a light pruning. I gently shaped up the new growth on my azaleas several times. Now I have three very vibrant azaleas in place of the overgrown mess that was there before.

To shape up azaleas, use a good pair of hand pruners and trim off any limbs that extend beyond the shape of the bush. I usually trim a bit, then take step back to make sure the bush is shaping up the way I want.

Repeat this process until the shrub is the shape you’d like without any straggly limbs sticking out. This process can be repeated later in the year, but be wary of cutting off any buds that could be there.

how to prune azaleas
how to prune azaleas
Azaleas one year after being heavily pruned.

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 Guides

Not sure how to prune the various plants, bushes, and herbs in your yard or garden? Use these helpful pruning guides for great information and instructions on how to prune!

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