Monday, April 2, 2012

Azalea Pruning

As the azalea blooms drop off for this year, pruning the plants should become a priority. Think long term and try to do your pruning so you will not have to prune again until this time next year. For your non-repeat bloomers try to get any touch up pruning done before the 4th of July.

When pruning azaleas, try to reach into the middle of the plant and open it up. Take some of the oldest canes down to the base of the plant so it can send out young new shoots from the bottom. Remove any wood that looks old and unproductive. Remove any rubbing, sick or diseased looking limbs. Encouraging growth from the middle will also reduce lichen growth. If you have a lot of diseased limbs, consider sterilizing your pruners with a 1% mix of bleach.

Try not to remove more than 25% of the total plant at one time. If it is an eight foot plant, don’t hedge it off down to six feet and figure you have removed 25% of the plant. It is best to use hand pruners and make your pruning cuts where another branch is coming off the limb that you are cutting. Don’t make cuts along the stem where there is not a branch coming out or you will get two limbs coming out at this point and will create the “shell effect” if done repeatedly.

The “shell effect” is when you have a veneer of green foliage on the outside of the plant and the middle of the plant has no foliage at all. This “shell effect” does not allow light and air movement inside the plant making it a haven for disease and insects. An azalea should have layers of green foliage from the top to the bottom, inside the plant and out.

There are many types of azaleas available on the market. They are different sizes and have different bloom periods. Many azaleas are available that are late bloomers as well as repeat bloomers. If you are designing a new yard or replacing some plants in an existing landscape, invest a little time in finding the right mature height for the area that you have and consider when you would like the azalea to bloom. This time spent planning could save you time later. For example, the College of Charleston’s graduation is in early May, so John Davis found an azalea that blooms during this period every year so the campus looks its best.

When you are pruning your azaleas or any other plant at this time of year, make sure you have plenty of mulch and maintain adequate moisture by a good watering schedule. When you prune the plant, you will be removing leaves that were shading the ground and the root system of the plant will be much hotter, causing it to dry out faster.

After you prune consider fertilizing. Without a soil test, 17-00-09 would probably be a good general fertilizer; however, it is always best to take a soil test. A soil test provides critical information, just like a blood test does for your doctor.

Fleas, powdery mildew, brown patch, mosquitoes and leaf gall on azaleas and camellias seem to be hot topics this spring.

Always read, understand and follow product label. The product label is a Federal Law.