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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

How To Not Hack Azaleas and Other Shrubs

I appreciate most every shrub and I grew up amidst many azaleas like most of us around these parts. We all love the gorgeous display they provide for two, perhaps three weeks, once a year (Encore azaleas, possibly three times a year).

I understand pruning and caring for them. They truly aren't that finicky in regard to nutritional or environmental care once established, but they do have their issues.

Or, rather, we have our own set of issues with them, mainly one - placing them in some available space in our landscape assuming they are going to remain those cute little plants we bought at the nursery or garden center. Owners do it, landscape designers do it, builders do it and landscape architects do it. (Wouldn't you like to be a Pepper too?)

One common solution for the unanticipated (ahem) growth is to cut these plants nearly back to the ground and wait for two, three or perhaps more years for them to resemble what they once were. Who wants to wait that long for a shrub which only blooms for roughly (maybe) two to three weeks to reach a point where it no longer looks like an infant. Wars have been fought and kids have graduated college in less time.

Because azaleas have no true main stem, as all the vertical branches originate from the root crown (cane grower) and are independent of one another, over time, some branches will simply die from age or will lose out to the others. While others will be diverted in all sorts of odd directions and/or become cross branches which can cause harm to others as they mature.

Many azaleas are used as foundation plants and also make wonderful understory plants around trees with higher canopies, such as mature pines.

In light of this (pun intended), most of their sun source is predominantly from one direction. On such side of the plant is where you'll usually find the most blooms. Oddly enough, underneath the periphery of this area is also where you'll usually find the most death and crazily diverted branches. Although this is a shrub as a whole, each and every branch has one agenda, regardless of the others - find the sunlight, bloom and reproduce, whatever it takes. Lower branches will go diving under mulch and soil and poke there little heads out to get some sunlight.

With this group of azaleas (estimated to be at least 30 years old) a variety of pruning techniques where used and some overall strategy for the future was employed. Although it appears these shrubs were simply trimmed with shears, they weren't. Doing so would have only accomplished so much for a short period of time, resulting in a not-so-far-off mess while not addressing the health of the plants.

The approach and techniques used on the azaleas apply to many other shrubs as well, depending on growth habit, and perhaps genus and species.

I also removed an off-color azalea just next to the steps which the owner did not wish to have in the group. This may a great spot for a potted arrangement, some yard art or my choice, a lamp post. The configuration of the front entrance and the driveway has this kind of English manor sort of thing going on. Where is the footman?

Most early-spring blooming azaleas can be trimmed or pruned after (flower drop/death) their blooming period and usually as late as late June to early July and still produce ample blooms next Spring. Encore azaleas are a different concern as they bloom a few times throughout the year.

And, if you find yourself wanting to get that nasty mess of azaleas under control after such time, but don't want to do so until next Spring, at least show them justice and prune them properly. You may miss the blooms next year, but balance this against the other flowering plants on your property and all the foliage you'll miss and having little nubs jutting up around the foundation of your home.

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