Azalea – Should It Be Pruned?

Q: I have a plumleaf azalea I purchased from a nursery in Commerce about four years ago. I initially planted it in the shade out of fear of too much sun and heat, but after 2 years of no blooms, I decided to move it to a sunnier location. It now gets morning and early afternoon sun, but it has yet to bloom. It also has grown very little if any. I have not fertilized it, since it is a wild azalea and probably would not be fertilized in its native habitat. Also, we have a piece of land in Maysville (near Commerce) that has some native azaleas in the back. They have gotten very tall and spindly due to competing with surrounding brush. I was wondering if they could be pruned back to a better and perhaps bushier shape.

A: Native azaleas grow nicely under the open shade produced by tall pine or hardwood trees. A few hours of direct sunshine is fine but full sun or dense shade will not be tolerated. You are right that they would not be fertilized, other than by Mother Nature, under normal circumstances. By moving it though, you lost many roots that were accumulating nutrients. I think the azalea has a nice spot now and will bloom eventually. If you want to speed up the process, try spreading a thin layer of cottonseed meal under it next April. Soil creatures will break down the meal and release nutrients to your plant. Native azaleas normally have an open habit but they can become misshapen like any other plant. They can be pruned in early March and will grow back in a more shapely fashion.