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Winterizing, Pruning and Fertilizing Your Azaleas

Ask the Expert: what should i be doing to my azaleas now (NOvember)
Potted AzaleaMy azaleas have not been doing as well as I like. When do we fertilize them and what pointers will help me to care for them? My Azaleas are planted outside. They are about 2 1/2 feet high and look healthy but I have not been getting flowers in March as in the past. I live in South Carolina. When is the time when they should be fertilized and when does one do it? Also, when do you trim the bushes? Thank you so much. Frances

Flower Shop Network Plant Expert Reply:
Don’t be alarmed at the lack of blooming this past year. Occasionally azaleas will be thrown off by inconsistency in the season – too cold, too wet, too dry too hot. However, if the problem persists for more than one year an issue may exist that needs to be corrected.

To determine what the problem is, we must first evaluate all the factors that contribute to blooming.

First is light exposure. Has the amount of light the azaleas are exposed to throughout the year changed. When azaleas do not get enough light during the growing season blooming can become inhibited. A solution for this is to give the azaleas more light by pruning the trees or shrubs that are shading them. At the same time, too much light at mid-day can cause scorching. However, this won’t keep blooms from forming.

Second factor is fertilization. Azaleas can be heavy feeders needing fertilizer monthly during the growing season. I usually recommend fertilizing your azaleas April through August. I like to use a granular slow release fertilizer that contains a systemic insecticide. Your local garden center and nursery should have the fertilizer you need. You might ask them what they recommend in your area as a fertilizer and the time period in which to fertilize them. You do not want to fertilize your azaleas during the dormancy period.

Third factor is pruning. The rule of thumb is to prune your azaleas immediately after they finish blooming or at least within that month. If you prune your azaleas at the wrong time, you might cut the future blooms off. Azaleas set their blooms many months in advance of when they actually bloom. You can prune your azalea severely or lightly depending on how much height and shape you need.

Another factor is proper care during the winter. In the fall, you need to mulch around your azaleas. You can use a multitude of different materials to do this – pine straw, hardwood mulch, pine mulch, cypress mulch, etc. You can discuss the options with your local garden center and nursery. Depending on the winter, your blooms can be damage if the weather becomes extremely cold. When we have had extreme temperatures in our area, I have actually iced my azaleas. Icing involves wetting the azaleas so that ice forms and the plant stays at 32° F. Before you attempt this talk to your local garden center. they will be able to determine if this is the right course of action for your area.

Hopefully these suggestion will help remedy your azalea issues.

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  1. Michelle C. says:

    I bought a new home in June. I asked the newly-hired lawn service to prune the azaleas because they look horrible. They’ve been untended for years and have become scraggly, stalky messes. However, when they came to do it, I caught them cutting the bushes off at the grown with a deer knife and stopped them (needless to say, I fired them) from ruining the landscape.

    So here’s my challenge. The bushes didn’t bloom in October as they should have because they were left unattended. Now it’s almost November and the scraggly plants cannot be pruned again until after the next bloom (which I’m sure they won’t do), right? How can I get these plants fit so that they WILL bloom in March?

  2. Michelle,

    One thing to consider about the lack of October blooms is that the type of Azaleas you have are only spring bloomers or you live in an area that is not conducive to Fall blooming. Therefore, I am going to address your problem as if this is the case. Your Azaleas will bloom if the plants have any growth left on them that contain the bloom buds. Normally these buds will have formed on the ends of the branches. So, any branch that is still fully intake on the plant still has the potential to bloom. Personally, I would forgo the blooms next spring and shape my Azaleas in the spring (cutting this late could result in damage that the plant can not overcome). You might be sacrificing the spring blooms, but in the long run the plants will be healthier and should produce a better blooming the next year. I would trim the plant by at least half and remove any weak or unhealthy branches.

    Now let’s address the neglect. To keep Azaleas healthy, I recommend fertilization once a month April through August (this may vary slightly based on the region you live in – So you could fertilize as early as March and as late as October). I prefer to use a fertilizer with a slightly greater percentage of phosphorus — too much nitrogen can cause issues. If insects are a problem in your area, use a fertilizer with a systemic insecticide built in to it. You also need to make sure that the Azaleas also are getting more than three hours of sun light. Although Azaleas can tolerate shady conditions, they need adequate sunlight to bloom and produce healthy foliage. To give your Azaleas the best chance make sure you keep them mulched. During the winter this will give them protection and during the summer it will help them retain the proper moisture.

    I hope this information is helpful. Please keep me posted.

  3. this is nov in southern florida. can I fertilizer my azaleas. I have plants that have just very few new leaves and the leaves are so tiny.i guess they need iron and Sulphur. is that correct

  4. how far back can i cut my azaleas? they do not look good.. i would like for them to be bushy. I live in tampa. fla . this is the only flowering bush i know that will grow in the shade. thank you

  5. Aynsley Broom says:

    Hi Joan,
    In the fall, to protect your azaleas from winter’s chill, you can add mulch around your azaleas. It is best to fertilize your azaleas between April through August.

  6. Aynsley Broom says:

    Hi Brenda,
    “Azaleas grow slowly and rarely need pruning. However, to maintain them at a certain size or to increase the density of their growth, azaleas may be pruned immediately after they’ve completed flowering, just as the new growth is being produced. These shrubs bloom each spring on the previous season’s growth, having formed buds by summer’s end, so don’t prune them after early summer lest you sacrifice next year’s flowers.” From: https://www.flowershopnetwork.com/blog/newsletter-may-2003/

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