We have had azaleas blooming since New Year’s Day. Different varieties bloom at different times and so the blooming season is stretched out.
Once azaleas have finished blooming would be the best time to evaluate if they need to be pruned. Azaleas do not need yearly routine pruning but some of the larger varieties can get very large over time. If you need to get them back to their intended space, right after blooming is the ideal time to prune.
The flower buds for next year’s bloom are formed as the new growth develops later in the spring. Most references will say that you need to have pruning accomplish by sometime in June but my experience is that azaleas do not always follow the book. I would try to have any azalea pruning accomplished as early in May as practical, so you do not cut off next year’s flowers.
If you need to prune it would be best to take advantage of the cooler spring weather and go ahead and prune in April, if your azaleas are finished blooming.
Pruning is not a time to take a hedge trimmer and box off the top and sides of azaleas or round them off. Pruning should reduce the overall size of the plant but leave the natural form of the plant. In order to keep the natural form, go down into the plant and take out whole branches close to ground level that will reduce height and width. Start by going into the center of the plant and select the tallest branches and visualize what the plant will look like when that branch is removed and then proceed from there.
Make sure to remove any dead branches. I see a lot of die back in azaleas that is a result of all the rains that we have been getting. Azaleas do not like standing water or poor internal drainage. Their roots stay too wet and results in root rots. Usually we do not see the die back until it turns off dry and the plants do not have enough root system to support themselves and then we see whole branches die. Cut those branches out now.
Once you have pruned go ahead and mulch your azaleas to hold back weeds and vines. Also add an application of fertilizer to help with growth and future flower production. You can use a general fertilizer such as 8-8-8 at the rate of one-half cup per square yard of bed area. You can also use an azalea or camellia fertilizer which is designed for acid loving plants; just follow the directions on the package. Our native soils are usually acid enough that we do not have to try to acidify the soil. There are also slow release fertilizers which give you another option.
I have been getting a number of reports over the past week of caterpillars eating the leaves of citrus trees. Most of the people that I spoke with noticed that leaves were missing and being chewed. Close inspection revealed an unattractive caterpillar that was black and white that looked like bird droppings. When disturbed the caterpillars display two red horn-like structures from the base of their head. They also emit an offensive odor. All of this is designed to ward of birds and other predator but gardeners can find this intimidating also.
The orange dog caterpillar is the larval form of the giant swallowtail butterfly. The butterfly is attracted to citrus and lays eggs. You are seeing the hatch.
On small trees be brave and pick the caterpillars off and step on them. For larger trees spray an insecticide such as Sevin (carbaryl) when flowers are not present and if you have flowers spray late afternoon after bees have gone back to their hives.
Kenny Sharpe is county agent with the LSU Cooperative Extension Service in Livingston Parish. For more information on these or related topics contact Kenny at 225-686-3020 or visit www.lsuagcenter.com/livingston.