Our classic, Southern azaleas put on a remarkable show of color this spring. But what do we do after they have bloomed so that they have a healthy start toward next spring?
Azaleas bloom from blossoms begun the year before - in July and August. Since these buds are on the plant from July through spring, pruning then will reduce next year's color. For this reason, never prune azaleas until immediately after they bloom.
There are several methods for pruning azaleas. The most common method is heading or shearing back the plant. Branches are cut all over the plant to make the plant smaller and thicker.
New growth from these cut stems make a thick canopy. Heading should be done immediately after blooming. Summer is not a good time because new growth is tender.
Another method is renewal pruning. This can be done on overgrown shrubs. Cut the plant back to 6 to 12 inches tall and as new shoots appear, thin them and head them back to encourage branching. This will produce a new thick canopy. It is important to keep the soil moist after a severe pruning.
Thinning of azaleas is another way to remove unwanted tall branches. Removing a branch back to another branch or trunk within the plants where the cuts do not show can be done almost any time of the year. This is simply a way to thin unwanted top branches and usually will not affect next year's bloom.
May is a good time to fertilize your azaleas. Repeat fertilizing in July if we are still receiving ample rainfall.
Azaleas prefer acidic soils having a pH between 5 and 6. But don't fertilize too much, and use a general-purpose fertilizer such as 10-10-10. Read labels to know the exact amounts to broadcast per square foot.
The No. 1 pest of azaleas is lace bugs. Shaking a leaf onto a sheet of paper can usually help you identify pests.
Lace bugs suck sap from the underside of the leaf. The top of the leaf will have a speckled white appearance and the bottom will have tar-colored spots.
Spray early in the spring or use a systemic insecticide applied directly into the ground.
Finally, cut any dead wood that may have resulted from cold injury, and remember to prune, fertilize and water.
Azaleas do not do well in full sun, so provide some shade for them. Beautiful azaleas result from careful maintenance and if done properly, the gardener will see benefits for years to come.
Wanda Cannon is a Master Gardener trained through the Hall County program and also serves as Master Gardener coordinator and horticulture assistant for the Hall County Extension office. Phone: 770-535-8293.