Most gardeners have at least one azalea or rhododendron in their garden landscape, and at this time of year, there is one major task to do… Dead heading the old flower clusters. This faded flower cluster removal is necessary in order to direct food reserves into making good growth and promoting next year’s flower buds. On rhododendrons (cluster flowering), you simply and carefully remove the flower cluster at the base, just above the leaves. If your plant has begun to make new shoots, be careful not to damage them. Pruning to make your plant more compact can be done now. If the new shoot is only a single shoot and you want more branching, simply cut or pinch off that new growth to above the old leaves. That will initiate dormant buds in that leaf cluster to break into growth and you will get more branching (compact growth) and more flower buds (remember to fertilize your plant).
With azaleas, the same principle applies, you remove those faded blooms above the leaves. Since they have leaves all along their stems, pinching is not that essential to make sure the leaf growth beneath where you remove the faded bloom clusters. They will break new growth almost anywhere along their stems. Growers often hedge shear the plants for uniform compactness and rounded shape of the bush. Do this before Mid July, so following growth will have a chance to mature and set buds for next year’s bloom. Any extra vigorous stems will need to be cut or pinched back to maintain compact shrub shape.

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