Azaleas brighten Central Florida landscapes from February to April annually. They set next year’s flower buds during the summer, so if you prune too late in the season, you could be hacking off future flowers!
Several light pruning events will yield the best blooms from your azalea. First, get rid of dead, diseased, or injured branches. Next, remove shaded out branches. Then, look for the long and leggy branches to remove and correct any crossing branches. In general, the base of the plant needs to remain wider than the top of the shrub to prevent shading out lower leaves. Eventually, those shaded out leaves will just fall off and your plant will have more exposed branches at the base resulting in a thin appearance. Furthermore, there are fewer total leaves performing photosynthesis, which is how plants make their own food and eat light. How and when you prune does make a difference!
Pinching tips of new growth is one way to stimulate more branching and more opportunities for flower buds to form over the summer. Pinch the tips of the azaleas now through May. Plants have growth hormones sending signals throughout the plant. Those new tips have apical meristems with auxin hormones saying “Grow, grow, grow, and keep going that way!” When we pinch just the tippy tops of the stems, we are forcing the plant to send signals to produce multiple lateral meristems that will branch out, providing more opportunities for buds to from. When pinching is done lovingly, the result is a multiplication of blossoms the following season. Azaleas, spireas, trumpet trees, and dogwoods all fall into this spring blooming, summer budding category and benefit from similar practices through the season.
It is a “pinch me” moment in the garden, so just enjoy those beautiful, bountiful blossoms signaling spring!