When And How To Prune Encore Azaleas

Encore Azaleas are unique in that they bloom in the spring and then rebloom in summer and fall. For azaleas, this is quite an amazing phenomenon. 

Encore Azaleas don't require pruning, however respond very well to and can benefit from it. Read on to found out why and learn how to prune Encore and other similar reblooming Azaleas the right way.

When To Prune Encore Azaleas

Unlike most other types of azaleas, which only set flower buds one time a year during fall that then bloom in spring, Encore Azaleas produce buds every time the plant produces new growth, which can be several times a year. So, pruning Encore Azaleas immediately after the spring bloom cycle will encourage more new growth, and consequently more flower buds that will begin opening during summer and continue through fall.

The next question might be...

Should I prune my Encore Azaleas after the the fall bloom cycle? The answer is: no. Why? Because you want to avoid stimulating tender new growth that could be damaged or killed by an early frost or freezing temperatures. So, to avoid problems, cease pruning Encore Azaleas two months prior to the average first frost date in your area. In the South (Zones 8-10) this means September. Further north (Zones 6 and 7) this might mean August. Find your USDA Zone.

The next question might be...

Can I prune my Encore Azaleas during summer? The answer is: yes. Though we usually suggest an annual pruning immediately after the spring bloom cycle, if you skipped spring pruning you can prune lightly during summer for shaping purposes and to promote new growth, which in turn produces new flower buds.

How To Prune Encore Azaleas

Maintenance Pruning
At any time of year it's good practice to remove damaged or dead branches from Encore Azaleas if and when they appear. This helps to keep the plant tidy and prevent the spread of disease. Cut back damaged branches just beyond the point of the break and preferably just above a leaf or leaf bud on the branch. Cut back dead branches at their origin or an inch or so beyond the point of necrosis. 

Pruning After the Spring Bloom Cycle

Pruning for Shaping Purposes...

When pruning an Encore Azalea immediately after all its blooms have faded in spring, use a sharp pair of  bypass hand pruners to cut back branches that have outgrown the rest of the shrub and/or are spoiling the shape of the plant. Make your branch cuts at a point a couple inches or so above the main form of the plant. Try to make your cuts about an inch above a leaf on the branch.

Pruning to Reduce Size...

Encore Azaleas respond very well to almost any amount of pruning. If you would like to reduce the size of your Encore Azaleas or are looking to achieve a more dense, formal look, after the spring bloom cycle you can cut plants back by up to 50% their height and/or width. Keep in mind that doing so might remove most of the leaves and your plants can end up looking a little naked until they flush out new growth, which usually happens within a couple weeks or so.

Size reduction pruning can also be performed in early fall, however, keep in mind that in doing so fall flowering will be diminished. Cease pruning Encore Azaleas two months prior to the average first frost date in your area. In the South (Zones 8-10) this means September. Further north (Zones 6 and 7) this might mean August. Find your USDA Zone.

Tip:  It's a good idea to feed your azaleas after you prune them with an Azalea Fertilizer.

Note:  I don't like using hedge trimmers to prune azaleas. Instead, I always use a sharp pair of bypass hand pruners to selectively prune. Reason being, shearing foliage will cut their leaves in half, leaving your plants with an unsightly appearance. 

Rejuvenation Pruning...

Rejuvenation pruning is an extreme method most often used to restore older azaleas to health or to greatly reduce the size of Azaleas that have seriously outgrown the space they were intended to fill. This pruning technique involves cutting the branches of the azalea back to short stumps. This is the only way to remove all of the old wood and provide the plant with one hundred percent juvenile wood loaded with leaf buds.

When and if your azaleas require rejuvenation pruning, there are two basic methods for doing so. You can cut the overgrown shrub back in one fell swoop, or spread the pruning out over several seasons.

One fell swoop...

If you choose the all-at-once approach, cut all the branches back to 6 to 12 inches above ground level in late winter or very early spring, before they would ordinarily flush out with new growth. When using this method, avoid feeding the azalea after pruning. After pruning, the shrub will typically grow a fair amount of new growth in the first year but may not start to produce blooms again until the second year. By the third or fourth year after the rejuvenation pruning the shrub should be of fair size and have a nice, compact shape. From this point on, you can prune it lightly as normal for shaping purposes or to control size.

Gradual approach...

The more gradual approach to rejuvenation pruning involves spreading the process over a three year period; cutting 1/3 of the stems to within 6-12 inches of the ground at the beginning of each growing season. By the end of this time, all the old wood will be removed and only healthy new growth will remain. When using this method, you can feed as normal after pruning.

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