One of the most common gardening mistakes Eric has encountered is azaleas pruned at the wrong time of the year or pruning them incorrectly. Sarah offers her advice. Since there are a lot of Azaleas in the south, pruning azaleas is one of the things she too often sees done badly. One does not want to use the hedge trimmers, don't make them square, don't make them gum drop shaped, don't give them bad haircuts. By shearing azaleas you will only get the growth of leaves and flowers on the outer couple of inches. Instead there are 2 other types of pruning cuts. The 1st is called a heading cut, it would be used to rejuvenate the plant. With this procedure you are cutting a branch all the way back, not to where there is another branch union but to basically a stub cut. This will produce a lot of new growth right below your cut. This will create a new canopy for the azalea. You could even take 1 or 2 branches out to make a more dense shrub. But typically the only thing most people need to do is thinning. With thinning all you're doing is taking a branch that you think has grown a little outside the canopy, thus getting a little bit big, and you just make it a little smaller. So take the branch, prune it back to a union with another branch. It's a small cut, you reach in and are just feathering the cuts. This will enable more sunlight to get into the azalea, it will stimulate more growth and importantly you won't have any ugly pruning cuts that are going to be an eyesore.
Sarah wants to make one point. Since azaleas come in such a riot of colors-pinks, lavenders, oranges, it's very easy to plant a raucous mix of azaleas. To make it easier on yourself buy just one cultivar or go to your garden center and buy azaleas when in bloom, when they are fully flowering. That way you can see what you're buying, importantly not buying a combination that's not going to be pleasing to the eye.
Eric thinks that is great advice and thanks Sarah for spending the day with us. The gardens look amazing and we've learned a tremendous amount. Thanks Sarah.
By Dan Heims, president of Terra Nova Nurseries
Photographs courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries
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