Frozen Flower Buds Mean a Good Time to Prune
William Bedwell, Richmond, VA
Reprinted from Mid Atlantic Chapter Newsletter
If a deep freeze in January killed some of your flower buds, there is one way to turn it into an advantage. Early pruning.
Often we don't have the heart to prune a large, overgrown azalea or rhododendron full of buds until after it blooms, but pruning works much better when done in late winter or very early spring. There is no reason to wait if flower buds are frozen.
When pruning in late February or March, cuts heal quickly with less chance of disease infection. New growth may begin sooner, closer to the normal time, and it will have more time to mature and maybe set flower buds before frosts. When I have pruned drastically in May or early June, growth sometimes did not begin until July or August. (Fertilizer and extra water help speed up new growth.)
Many azaleas and rhododendrons naturally mature into such beautiful forms, I think it is better to avoid pruning, except to shape and encourage branching of young plants. But when the plants threaten to barricade pathways and become a jungle, pruning or relocation may be necessary. This may be a good winter to get a head start on necessary pruning...but I hope not!
Editor's Note: You can tell if buds are blasted by removing some of them, preferably from inconspicuous places, and slicing longitudinally through them. If they are all brown inside, they are blasted. If they have a few brown areas, they are probably partially blasted, but you may still have an acceptable flower display. The observation should be made quickly after making your cut before the cut surface starts browning (like a cut apple). A hand lens is helpful.