How to Prune RhododendronsJuly 18, 2014
Need help learning how to prune rhododendrons & azaleas? We’ve got you covered! Fortunately, you can fine-prune these beautiful plants just about any time of year as long as you take care not to cut off all the flower buds.
Need pruning tools? Courtesy of our friends at Fiskars, we’ll be giving away a pair of bypass pruners and a folding handsaw to one lucky reader. Read on for details…(this giveaway is now closed.)
The reality is, sometimes you get to pruning when you have the time. Not every plant can be pruned successfully at the same time as every other plant, but rhodies are quite forgiving on timing.
Simple rules to follow: don’t prune them if they are flowering (unless you want to cut a few flowers for a vase) or about to flower (you’ll miss out on their best season) or if it is frozen outside (and you might break a branch along the way). And, if pruning in spring, summer or autumn, be sure to check for hornet nests. They love to build their summer homes in rhodies and other medium-sized shrubs — especially when they’re dense with dead wood! But remember: rules are made to be broken, and your garden and plants may require a bit of rule bending.
In all honestly, we knew how to prune rhododendrons, but we just hadn’t gotten to cleaning this one up in a couple of years. Trees and shrubs grow just fine without us cutting, shaping and coiffing them all the time. But, the messy interior of this rhodie was an eye-sore we could no longer ignore. So, on a day that eventually topped 90F, we spent a couple of hours beautifying this blooming beauty. We got done well before temperatures soared. No sunburns here and by far the plant is in better shape than before.
All we needed for the job: a pair of bypass pruners, a folding handsaw, and a tarp.
Did you know that all azaleas are rhododendrons? Yep, Rhododendron is actually a genus of plants into which the azaleas are also classified! So, of course it makes sense that knowing how to prune rhododendrons would set you up for success in pruning your azaleas as well. Generally speaking, azaleas are twiggier, so you’ll just be in for making a lot more small cuts than you would on bigger rhodies.
Fine pruning is not shearing off the outside to “shape” a plant. Often the sign of a good pruner is you can hardly tell they’ve cut anything from your plants. Still, when we were done with interior cuts, sunlight & air could flow through the plant. This helps reduce pest and disease issues in many garden situations.
Because the plant hides a foundation & utility area, we chose not to lift all the lower limbs, which would expose the ugly part of the house from a nearby patio. Eventually, we may decide to plant something under this rhodie at which time, we will limb it up. But no way was planting going to happen during a heatwave in July!
Ready to dive in but still need the right tools for the job? In the comment section for this post, tell us about the most beautiful rhodie or azalea in your garden. Is it colorful, fragrant, filled with pollinators, or what makes it a plant you’d love to get cleaned up.
One person will be chosen via random.org on Monday, July 28, 2014 to win a pair of Large Bypass Pruners and a 7″ PowerTooth Folding Handsaw to be shipped to them from our friends at Fiskars. Comment period to enter closes at midnight PDT on Sunday, July 27, 2014. (This giveaway is now closed.)
(More details on our relationship as paid writer with Fiskars at the end of this post, but to be clear we have received no compensation for this post or tool giveaway. And, learn more about using random.org at the end of this article.)
Next up: a Visual step-by-step guide to deadheading your rhododendrons.
It’s a total myth that your rhodies won’t bloom if you don’t deadhead them!
Somebody’s mother a long time ago must have lied to their kids to get them to do the deadheading dirty work for her. In fact, rhodies will bloom abundantly even if you never remove a single deadhead. But, you’ll have to look at those ratty seed heads all over your evergreens throughout the growing season. And, you’ll be looking at a jumbled mass of dead material, piling up in the interior of your plant over the years. Removing deadheads when you prune rhodies is really an aesthetic choice not a critical move to keep them flowering.
If you want to deadhead your rhodies, here’s how:
And one final lesson: know your buds. When learning how to prune rhododendrons, it’s important to know a flower bud from leaf and stem growth. This way, you can quickly avoid cutting off all the flowers when you fine prune your plants. (And, if you’re hiring a maintenance team, you can quiz them about what’s what on your plant. If, for instance, they want to shear your plants into a hedge in February, odds are they’ll be cut off all your potential flowers.)
Pruned and deadheaded properly (or even not at all), rhodies and azaleas can live for many generations. They provide evergreen interest during the dull days of winter, a blast of spring color & pollinator forage in every color of the rainbow, and they provide the backdrop against which summer & fall color will glow.
(Fine Print: Garden Mentors is a paid writer for Fiskars. However, we have received no compensation for this post. The winner of the Fiskars tools will be selected by random.org. First to comment is number one and subsequent comments will be counted sequentially. Contact information will be provided to Fiskars, which will ship the tools to the winner. This giveaway is now closed. )