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This Fall: Pause Before Pruning Spring Blooming Shrubs

Azaleas pruned late in the fall will have little or no bloom in the spring. Image Credit: Matthew Orwat

As fall approaches, our spring blooming shrubs such as gardenia, spiraea and azalea begin to look unkempt and overgrown. That means it is time to give them a severe pruning to get them ready for winter, right? Not so fast, take a minute to understand the growth habit of each species before diving in with the pruning shears.

Azalea:

Many do not understand that annual spring azalea bloom could be sacrificed completely by pruning spring blooming azaleas at the wrong time.

Pruning traditional azaleas in the fall will result in a loss of spring bloom the following year because most bloom on previous years’ wood. This means that they flower on growth put on throughout the previous growing season. If a gardener removes the previous season’s new growth, they are removing the blooms as well.

So, when is the proper time to prune azaleas? The ideal time to prune is directly after the spring bloom. This will give the plant enough time to generate abundant new growth, thus maximizing bloom next spring.

Even the developers of the Encore Azalea, a new repeat blooming type, recommend pruning as soon after the spring bloom as possible to maximize bloom set for the following year.

For more information on pruning azaleas or on general azalea culture, please read the UF / IFAS publication Azaleas at a Glance or check out the Pruning Azalea page on Gardening in a Minute

Image Credit: Dan Culbert, UF / IFAS

Gardenias don’t need much pruning, except to remove any dead or non-productive wood, to help them remain bushy, and to remain the same size as other plants in the landscape. Choose a cultivar that will mimic the size of other shrubs, not one too large for the area. Pruning should be done as soon after the summer bloom as possible. Pruning after the beginning of fall will reduce the next year’s bloom production.  Know your cultivar. Some cultivars of gardenia flower on new wood as well as old, while some flower on old wood only.

Spiraea:

Regarding spiraea, prune after the bloom as needed. The closer to the late summer or autumn, the greater negative effect pruning will have on bloom quality since spiraea set their bloom in early autumn.

I hope this article prevented a few pruning disasters as well as started a thinking process for the act of pruning your landscape plants.

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