Timing is everything to ensure a colorful spring.
With the weather becoming more pleasant you might be eager to do some pruning on your shrubbery. Pruning some plants at the wrong time can prevent them from blooming. Spring flowering shrubs such as azaleas and camellias set their flower buds the previous summer. Do not prune these plants until after they bloom.
Camellias are slow growing and need just a little pruning to improve air circulation. Thin out interior branches and keep the lower branches off the ground. Clean up old blooms from the ground and replace the mulch to prevent flower fungal diseases.
Azaleas are one of the most popular plants in the south and yet so misunderstood. They are often pruned at the wrong time of the year. It is the short nights of summer that triggers the plant to form buds for next spring’s flowers. Drought in summer can adversely affect the quantity and quality of flowers too. When you prune azaleas anytime from summer to spring you will be cutting off flower buds. The best time to prune Azaleas is just after they finish blooming until the first week in June. Shape azalea bushes into mounds. The lower branches should extend beyond the top of the plant. This will allow sunlight to reach the lower limbs. Too often I see bushes given a flat top. They look like the Yorktown Aircraft Carrier. But take a closer look and you will see the bottom limbs are dead due to lack of sunlight. Azaleas do not need to be pruned every year. I recommend cutting them back to knee high every 3 years and let them grow naturally the other 2 years. Feed them some organic fertilizer and plenty of water after you prune them and mulch with pine straw. You will be rewarded with a fabulous display of color next spring.
Spring is a good time to shop for azaleas at local garden centers. This is the best way to ensure you get the colors you want. Look for new cultivars that bloom more than once. There is a new series of azaleas called Encore because they will bloom again in the summer or fall. ‘Autumn Royalty’ is one of my favorites. The purple flowers bloom in the spring and again from August through November. ‘Autumn Royalty’s’ purple flowers will pop when planted with yellow flowers. There are over 25 of these multi-season azaleas now on the market and one of them is sure to become your favorite too.
Keep in mind this general rule of thumb. Prune spring blooming plants after they bloom, prune summer bloomers before they bloom.