Cutting azaleas - tutorial with illustrated instructions

Cutting azaleas - tutorial with illustrated instructions

Occasions for an azalea cut

Azaleas are typical spring bloomers that already create their thick flower buds in the summer of the previous year. A stable framework that forms without horticultural intervention is characteristic of the ornamental shrubs. A built-up cut is therefore not part of the cut maintenance. As long as an alpine rose is compact and bloomed, it does not need regular pruning, apart from annual flower care. The following table summarizes the conditions under which azaleas are to be cut:

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Cut optiontargetPeriod / occasion
Break out witheredFormation of new flower buds for the next yearin every year
TopiaryCut back any shoots sticking out of the moldif necessary, not before the 5th year
Taper cutEliminate baldness, promote willingness to flowerwith progressive shedding on old bushes

When is the best time?

Azaleas create their buds after the flowering period. This growth behavior leaves little room for a cutting date. To shorten individual shoots or to rejuvenate the ornamental shrub, choose a mild day in spring before budding. Depending on the variety, fresh shoots often take a year or more at the interface. In gardening practice it has been found that cutting dates in autumn or winter are punished with a total failure of the trimmed shoots or the entire alpine rose. Only the flower care takes place in June, immediately after the end of flowering.

Clean up withered things properly - this is how it works

For the annual flower care on azaleas, scissors and saw remain in the tool shed. When the floral spring fairytale draws to a close, the first buds are already waiting below the withered flowers. You already have the necessary tools with you in the form of your fingers. How to clean up faded azaleas properly:

  • Grasp the short section of the shoot below a withered flower between your index finger and thumb
  • Break away the dead inflorescence to the side or snap it off

As the illustration below shows, the buds, leaves or shoots below the withered inflorescences should not be damaged. The sooner you clean up everything that has withered on your azaleas, the easier it will be.

Cut withered rhododendron

Optional cutting of azaleas - Instructions for topiary cutting

It happens that individual branches become bare or protrude from the azalea bush and make it appear sparsely. You cut these shoots back in spring so that the cut does not leave a gap that will only close after years. How to do it right:

  • Cut azalea branches back to a 4-5 centimeter cone with a side leaf
  • Result: The leaf supplies the cone so that it does not dry out
  • Ideal result: new growth begins in the following year

If you only notice disturbing shoots in the middle of the flowering period, you can still carry out the pruning at this later point in time. The figure below illustrates the cutting process. The prerequisite for success is that you cut on tenons with a side leaf and that it is a single branch.

Azalea pruning

Fix baldness with a rejuvenating cut - this is how it works

Azaleas grow compact and blooming for many years. Nevertheless, at an advanced age they can form gaps and bald from below. This is no reason to clear an alpine rose that used to be busily blooming. With a tapering cut, you can effectively stimulate leaf growth and blooming performance. By spreading the radical cutting action over several stages, you reduce the stress on an aged azalea. How to proceed correctly step by step:

  • First stage: half of all aged shoots derive from a branch inside the bush
  • Second stage: the second half of the shoots also derive to a lower-lying branch

The figure below illustrates the correct incision. Place the saw at a fork in such a way that a ten inch long tenon remains. In contrast to the shaped cut, there is no blade at this point to supply the tenon. The new growth can therefore drag on for some time. So give a rejuvenated azalea an extra dose of fertilizer. A special fertilizer NPK 14 + 7 + 14 for rhododendrons is well suited for a vital growth cycle. Spread 100 grams per square meter, pour in plenty and cover the fertilizer with a 3 centimeter layer of rhododendron soil or bog substrate.

Rejuvenate azalea

Tenon cutting - how to do it right

In the tutorial, reference is made to the special cutting technique that is crucial for azaleas at a suitable point. The cut with a small cone and side shoot is rare in wood care. Typically, prune your shrubs and tree tops a short distance from a bud or on astring to maintain vitality and prevent infection. Therefore, the tutorial at this point is once again devoted to the correct pruning for shape and taper pruning on azaleas. How to do it right:

  • When cutting in the leafy area of ​​the shoot: apply scissors at a distance of 5 centimeters from a lateral leaf
  • When cutting in the bare branch area: start the saw at a distance of 5 centimeters from a branch
  • Let the cones stand until the new shoots are strong enough

The cones will dry back over time. If the dried tissue does not fall down by itself, you can remove the withered pieces.

Tips on the right tool

The right tool is one of the key factors for a successful azalea cut. The right scissors and saw should be at hand for every size of shoot and type of cut. When purchasing, make sure that it is of good quality so that you can handle the cutting tool comfortably and easily take it apart for maintenance and cleaning work. Although most azaleas remain small and reach a maximum height of 150 centimeters, thick branches can form over time. The following equipment for cutting care is recommended:

  • Knife with a straight blade or a hip with a curved edge
  • Hand scissors for all branches up to 2 cm thick
  • Lopping shears for shoots 2 to 4 cm in diameter
  • Sword or hacksaw for branches from 4 cm

Do not be confused by the extensive range of models when purchasing, but use the variety to select the perfect tool for your individual needs. There are scissors for left and right-handed people, large and small hands and with a bypass or anvil mechanism.

From our point of view, bypass scissors are more suitable for cutting azaleas because they work with two sharp blades so that shoots cannot be crushed. We also advocate sword saws, as they leave smooth wound edges. Pruning shears are only important if you are growing a variety of the azalea species Rhododendron luteum. This can be as high as a man at the ideal location, so that the longer reach of a pruning shears is advantageous and makes climbing on the ladder superfluous.

Prepare cutting tools - you should pay attention to this

Before each cut, check whether the scissor gear is smooth. The blades and anvil must have no play. If necessary, tighten the locking screw that high-quality scissors have. It is important to note that you only work with sharp blades and saw blades. Blunt tools cause frayed wound edges, which are an ideal target for pathogens and pests. You can sharpen scissor blades yourself or have them sharpened by a specialist. Blunt saw blades must be replaced so that a spare blade should be available.

Meticulous cleanliness is also important to knowledgeable azalea pruning. Clean your tool after every use. Before the next cut, disinfect blades and saw blades with high-percentage alcohol. One of the most common causes of the spread of disease and pests is contaminated cutting tools.

frequently asked Questions

What is the difference between azaleas and rhododendrons?

From a botanical point of view, the species and varieties of azaleas belong to the genus of rhododendrons. This fact is expressed in the botanical names. This is what botanists call the Japanese azalea Rhododendron japonicum. The outstanding difference is that azaleas thrive as deciduous or at least semi-evergreen shrubs, whereas rhododendrons wear their leaves all year round. Visually, garden azaleas differ from rhododendrons in that they have brighter flower colors and an upright, tighter growth.

Are azaleas pruned after transplanting?

No, in contrast to most garden trees, azaleas are not pruned after a change of location. Like all rhododendron species, azaleas do not apply the necessary root pressure after transplanting to sprout again from old wood. So that the flowering bushes regenerate quickly, choose an appointment between the beginning of March and mid-May. Please ensure that you dig up as large a proportion of the root volume as possible and place it in the ground at the new location.

Can the clippings be used as cuttings?

Azaleas are easy to propagate with cuttings. The chances of a successful course are highest in the period from mid-July to early September, when the time window is open for a cut. It is important to note that you cut azalea cuttings in dry weather. Head or shoot cuttings with a length of five to ten centimeters are perfect. Please use a heated mini greenhouse and an acidic, lime-free growing medium. (€ 9.05 at Amazon *)

Are azaleas poisonous?

All azaleas contain toxins that can cause symptoms of poisoning if eaten intentionally or unintentionally. Just one leaf, bud or flower is enough to cause cramps, nausea and vomiting in children, sensitive adults and animals. The ingestion of larger amounts can result in slowed heart activity, shortness of breath, coma or death. Alpine roses are not recommended for cultivation in the family garden with small children and pets.

A storm severely damaged the azalea on one side - what to do?

It is not enough to take back azaleas with one-sided damage except for the undamaged areas. In order for the flowering wood to regenerate evenly after storm damage, the equilibrium within the crown must be maintained. In technical jargon, this ideal state is referred to as the juice balance. Specifically, this means that the shoots on the undamaged side of the bush should cut back as far as on the damaged side.

Why do individual azalea buds die before the flowers unfold?

This is a typical symptom of a fungal attack caused by the rhododendron leafhopper. In September, the green-orange colored females lay their eggs in the buds. During this process, the insects transfer a fungus that causes rhododendron and azalea buds to die off. Cut off brown discolored, withered buds below the first pair of leaves and dispose of the clippings in the household waste. As a preventive measure, you can hang yellow boards in your azaleas in August and September to catch the approaching cicadas.

The 3 most common cutting mistakes on azaleas

If the cut leaves a deformed or unwilling azalea, the gardener has made a mistake. The 3 most common causes and their consequences are summarized in the following table together with tips for prevention:

wrong cutting timeFailure of the flowerCut individual shoots in spring
no flower caredeclining flowering capacityClean withered flowers regularly
Shoots cut off and not derived on conesholey, uneven growthalways derive on 5 cm small cones


Indoor azaleas do not please the gardener for longer than a winter or two, even under ideal conditions. Indian azaleas (Rhododendron simsii), the most common pot azaleas in garden centers, have good prospects for a splendid flowering period between October and April. Ideally, indoor azaleas spend the summer in a cool, shady spot in the garden, where they are regularly watered and sprayed with soft water. The pruning does not differ from garden azaleas, except for the choice of dates taking into account the winter flowering time.