Two plants say spring more than any other — azaleas and dogwoods.
I am often asked when to prune azaleas. The best time to prune (cut-back) azaleas is right after flowering.
Two important reasons for pruning at this time are:
1. Allow new growth to mature sufficiently to form flower buds and flower next spring, and;
2. Allow the new growth to mature and harden-off, to avoid freeze damage in the fall or winter. Removing the terminal portion of azalea branches in late summer almost always assures that you will not have blooms the next spring.
Azaleas can be thinned-out (selective removal of entire branches) in summer and still have blooms the next spring. The bloom count will be lower due to removed branches, but the remaining branches will bloom.
However, I have seen numerous cases where people prune plants (cut back the terminal portion of the branch) in late summer and the new growth was damaged by early fall frost. The result usually causes death of the new shoots, but it often does not show up till spring.
If you see dead shoots on azaleas, look for split bark on the lower portion of the branches or stems. When the bark is completely split, death will usually occur by spring.
If the bark is partially split, you may not see dead branches until the following fall when fungus and other organisms destroy the entire bark of the plant.
Dead shoots can be cut below the wound and the plant will continue to perform.
Pruning in late summer or early fall can also result in removal of existing flower buds.
Extensive late summer pruning that stimulates new growth can delay plant maturity such that flower buds are not set resulting in a lack of flowers the next spring.
Plants that are cut-back extensively in the spring may require another light pruning in early summer to increase branching or to thin-out excessive branches. A light pruning in early summer should not reduce bud count.
Remember, the general rule for most plants is, if it blooms in the spring prune soon after blooming. This is not the case for fruit trees. They should be pruned in late winter.
Clark Beusse is the Dawson County extension agent. For more information, call (706) 265-2442.