The best pruning jobs begin with a goal, a determination of what needs to be accomplished–reducing size, controlling shape, rejuvenating growth. As with all pruning jobs, removing the dead and diseased wood is the first call of order. Then take a step back and look at the framework before moving ahead with your mission.
See also: Native Azaleas
The best time to prune azaleas and rhododendrons is immediately after bloom into mid-July. If you wait too long, buds will already have formed for the following year. In general, azaleas and rhododendrons need minimal pruning.
To reduce the height of an azalea while allowing it to retain its natural appearance, follow the branch targeted for removal down to a lower lateral branch, and make a cut just above the point of intersection. The cut should be slightly above where the two branches intersect so as not to cut into the tissue of the branch that will remain.
Another way of reducing the size of an azalea is to cut it back to just above a whorls of leaves. Also look for circular scars around the stem, where leaves once were. Cutting just above these areas should create good bud break. In either case, make the cut just above new buds, whether they are visible or latent.
Evergreen azaleas can be sheared back to form nice mounds if desired. If you are pruning the azalea into a mound, remember to occasionally open up the plant and let some light penetrate into the dense mass of foliage so that it doesn’t get too congested.
See also: Azalea Planting Tips
If you’d like to make a young azalea or rhododendron more compact and well-branched, the easiest thing to do is to pinch off the vegetative buds in spring. First take a look at the plant to familiarize yourself with the bud system. The fat swollen buds are flower buds. These form in the previous season and overwinter, and you’ll want to leave these alone. They are generally twice the size of the vegetative buds, which are the narrower, pencil-like, smaller buds.
Learn more about keeping your azaleas healthy below.