Strategic Pruning

One fall afternoon, almost twenty-five years ago, I exited my office to find my friend pruning a large azalea bush. There were actually huge shrubs (the first was 18 feet by 24 feet and the other was about 18 feet by 20 feet and both were 6 feet tall). Wayne was a horticulturist by trade, so I knew he had a reason for why he was doing this job the way he was, but I found it puzzling.

Why would a man be standing on a step ladder, reaching into this huge shrub with a tiny pair of hand shears cutting out branches one at a time? This job was going to take forever the way he was going about it. After watching for a while, I finally asked why he was not using powered hedge trimmers to make a quick job of it.

Wayne called me close and then reached in to give me a closer look at the azalea bush where he was working. “What do you see?” he asked as he spread a section apart.

“There are no leaves more than ten inches into the bush,” I replied.

“These two bushes need to be trimmed back at least 18 inches so they are not overwhelming the sidewalks. But if I did that there would be no leaves left to support the bushes. They would be killed,” Wayne patiently explained.

Last fall I was thankful for my earlier education on pruning azaleas. The shrubs at the front of our house had overgrown their space and needed pruning. This fall we will be able to complete the two season job. Last year we strategically pruned selected sections to open the inside branches up to sunlight this year. Now those inner branches have leaves, so we will be able to cut these plants back to a preferable size.