When to trim encore azaleas?

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A lot of gardeners do not realize that spring flowering trees and shrubs set their flower buds during the summer. In the case of azaleas, we generally stop pruning in mid- to late July in order to avoid interfering with flower bud set.

(Mobile Register, Mary Hattler)

Q: I am trimming the bushes in our yard. Is it too late to trim the azaleas? — Pam

A: A lot of gardeners do not realize that spring flowering trees and shrubs set their flower buds during the summer. Most spring flowering trees and shrubs have already set or are setting their buds for next spring. In the case of azaleas, we generally stop pruning in mid- to late July in order to avoid interfering with flower bud set. So, if you need to prune, the sooner you do it the better. You may get away with it, as there is still time for the azaleas to send out new growth and set buds. This information does not apply to Encore azaleas because they bloom over such a long season. They have already begun to bloom and will bloom through the fall and again in the spring. The best time to prune Encore azaleas is right after they finish their spring bloom. Fall and winter blooming shrubs also have already set their flower buds. Any pruning done now on sasanquas and camellias will remove flower buds and reduce the display.

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Q: I have a mirliton vine growing vigorously in my backyard. It’s grown over my neighbor’s fence and is going for his roof. Can I retard its growth by cutting it back, or should I continue letting it grow uninhibited? — Charlie Chauvin

A: Whether or not you can let it grow uninhibited in your neighbor’s yard is up to your neighbor. If they don’t mind it growing in their yard (and harvesting the mirlitons it produces there), then you may allow it to grow. However, if your neighbor expresses a desire for you to remove the vine, you should be a good neighbor and remove it from their yard and prevent it from growing back onto their property. As to controlling the vine in your own yard, trim back or redirect the growth as needed to keep the situation acceptable. Taking a shoot that is growing in the wrong direction, and gently bending it to grow in the desired direction. You may need to tie it in place. Something soft, like a strip of old nylon stocking or cloth, works well for this. If redirecting won’t work, you can trim the vine as needed. Flowering generally begins in late September or October, and production occurs in late October through mid-December. It would be better to do any needed pruning on the vine now and minimize pruning the closer we get to flowering.

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Q: I just got a start of bird of paradise – two pieces actually. Do you have any suggestions for successfully getting them established? Should I start them in containers or go straight to the ground? — James Christopher

A: I’d get them on their feet in containers until next spring, and, if you like, plant them then. Pot them in containers appropriate to their current size. Use potting soil. The divisions have likely sustained a lot of root damage and will be prone to transplant shock. Although bird of paradise prefer full sun, give the divisions time to recover in a less stressful environment at first. Put them in the shade for a couple of weeks. Then put them in morning sun for a couple of weeks. After that, move them to full sun where they will get the light these plants prefer. You can grow them in containers indefinitely until they are large enough and/or you have decided exactly where you want to plant them.

Q: I am in my second season with eight Encore azaleas.

They did well last year but only recently bloomed very well. I am not well versed in the care of these and am seeking info as to the pruning method for best results.

A: Ah, the Encores. Since these plants are still somewhat experimental, so is the pruning of them.

The trouble is that you have an azalea that blooms a little bit all year long, so any time that you prune, you are liable to be shearing off developing flower buds, and thus reduce your blooms. You could treat them like most azaleas, which have one or two spectacular seasons of bloom in spring or fall, and prune them most heavily after the spring bloom. But if you did that, you’d likely reduce your summer blooms significantly, and you’d defeat the primary reason for growing Encores.

The advice from the growers of Encore azaleas quietly alludes to the problem: “Encore Azaleas,” they write in their promotional material, “require very little pruning to retain good form and do not need dead-heading.” That’s a polite way of saying: Don’t prune these plants heavily, or you’re going to make a mess.

There have been many complaints about lack of flowering with Encores. Part of the problem may be that Encores simply don’t bloom as spectacularly as azaleas that have one or two primary seasons of bloom — instead, they tend to produce a few flowers at a time over a longer period. But I’m also suspicious that Mobilians hack on their Encores as sadistically in spring as they hack on other azaleas, and the Encores may suffer more for it.

Bottomline: Plant your Encores so they have sufficient room to grow, so you won’t have to prune them heavily. We’re still a little uncertain how big these relatively new Encore varieties will grow, but I’d plan on each plant growing about 4 feet wide and 4 feet tall. If you feel you must prune an Encore azalea, do it very lightly multiple times each year, starting after the first flowering in April. Pruning lightly means that you should avoid cutting down into the crown of the Encores. Instead, simply snip off only those few branch tips that stick up much higher than the rest.

It’s not hard to do it this way, but it may require more thought and concentration than some pruners can muster. For those folks, I recommend traditional azaleas, which have a greater variety of bloom and will tolerate a once-a-year brutal pruning as long as you do it quickly after they bloom in spring.

TAKE CONTROL OF WEED

Q: Is there any way you know to get rid of rattlesnake weed? It has taken over my St. Augustine and centipede grasses and liriope. I am hesitant to try chemicals for fear that it will ruin the grasses without controlling the weed, but my yard looks really bad.

A: In the lawn, rattlesnake weed is amazingly easy to control if you know its secrets. Rattlesnake weed grows most vigorously from fall through winter and late spring. Deprive it of this long natural growth period, and it will decline rapidly.

Trouble is, folks quit mowing their yard when the grass stops growing, and the rattlesnake weed has months to fearlessly run around and play in your yard before you start mowing again. If you wait until spring to mow it down, it will already have stored all the energy it needs in its roots, and will re-emerge to compete with the grass during wet spells in summer and fall.

So, if we had half as much sense as rattlesnake weed, we’d mow our yards several times during the cool months, to keep those winter weeds in check.

In the garden beds and other places that don’t get mowed, controlling it is not so easy, and it’s impossible to find a chemical that will control the rattlesnake weed without harming other plants.

But the same principles described above apply: You MUST weed it out now and through the winter if you’re going to have any impact. If you wait until spring, it will already have developed a million underground tubers that will quickly push up a new sprout every time you weed. I’ve found that two or three weedings, in November, again in late January, and again in early March, can be very effective at keeping rattlesnake weed under control.

To give yourself a headstart in the liriope, try this: After the first few hard frosts, mow the liriope AND the rattlesnake weed down to the ground. Then in January and February, weed out all the rattlesnake weed that re-emerges. Fertilize your liriope next spring with cottonseed meal to encourage it to grow back lushly.

You won’t eliminate all the rattlesnake weed in a single season, but you will reduce it dramatically, and over a couple of winters, it should diminsh significantly.

BARK IS INCLUDED

Q: A tree company has said that one of our trees is sick because it has “included bark” and needs to come down. What is included bark, and why is it a threat to the tree?

A: Most trees in urban areas suffer from “included bark” to one degree or another, and included bark can eventually promote conditions in which limbs are more likely to shear off from the main trunk. But if the problem is spotted before damage occurs, it’s often possible to minimize future problems with judicious pruning. It may be easier or more profitable for the tree company to simply take the tree down, but I’d make sure that the problem can’t easily be remedied before resorting to a complete take-down.

So what is included bark? It’s a condition that develops when a side limb gets too big for its britches, and starts trying to grow as straight up and as tall as the main trunk. The result is that the side limb starts growing too vertically and too close to the main trunk, and as the two limbs merge, the bark gets trapped between the two limbs (the bark is literally “included” in the fork). This makes for a very weak connection as the side limb continues to grow, and that limb is more vulnerable to shearing off.

In some cases, where the side limb is really big and immediately threatens valuable property if it shears off, you may need to take the entire tree down.

But in many cases, you can often prevent included bark from becoming a serious problem by removing weight from the tip of the side limb — which immediately lessens the chances that the limb will shear away from the trunk. By pruning the tips of the side limb, you’ll also dramatically reduce its growth rate and likely eliminate its tendency to try to compete with the main trunk, which means that the included bark problem won’t worsen.

Pruning a poorly formed side limb doesn’t require removing a lot of wood. In fact, you want to avoid removing any limbs much bigger than three inches in diameter. Just cut the tips of the branches back to the next biggest limb. A good arborist will know the ropes on this, and in many cases, if it’s done properly, the tree may not need further pruning.

NO ZEST IN THIS LEMON

Q: Each year my Meyer lemon produces nice, juicy lemons but the outside of just about every lemon has a blemish on the top, often extending around the sides and around the stalk. It is like the yellow skin is split and cracked, and you can see the white fleshy tissue underneath. With time, fungus builds up in these cracks. With all of this, you cannot use the skin for zest, which is an important part of many dishes involving lemon. The cracks start really early, while the lemon is small and green.

Can you tell me what causes it and how I can prevent it?

A: First, I should fill you in on the peculiarities of Meyer lemon. Your search for Meyer lemon zest is not likely to be fruitful, no matter how pretty your Meyer lemons are.

That’s because Meyer lemons are not true lemons (they are hybrids of lemons and oranges), and are noted for their distinct LACK of lemony zest. To get lemon zest, you need a true lemon, such as a Lisbon. True lemons are not nearly as hardy as Meyer lemons, and must be grown in pots here.

Nonetheless, a nice Meyer lemon has many other good uses, and we should try to do something about those cracks. A lot of citrus displayed split and cracked fruits this year. This is almost always the result of extreme fluctuations in temperature and water, but sometimes it can be caused by excessive fertilization. That’s often a problem for citrus in pots, which tend to dry out easily and (strangely enough) stay too sweet once they’re watered. But in a year like this one, where a long dry spell is followed by a very, very wet spell, you may get some splitting no matter what.

If your plant is in the ground, mulching around the EDGES of the canopy, where the roots are, might help even out the moisture extremes. If in a pot, you might need to change your soil and watch to make sure the watering is a little more even.

RED OAK VS. BLACK GUM

Q: We have a black gum tree growing about 30 feet away from a Southern red oak, and a tree service has recommended that we take out the black gum. They say the red oak is a better tree, and removing the black gum will give it more room to grow. What are your thoughts?

A: Unless you’re planning on cutting those trees for lumber, there’s no reason I can see to prefer a Southern red oak over a black gum. Both are fine trees, but personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing more black gums planted around the bay. Black gum is a strong and reasonably long-lived tree; it may have slightly fewer pest and disease problems than red oak; and it has handsome glossy green summer foliage and some of the most vivid red fall color on the Gulf Coast (Southern red oak has duller olive-green foliage in summer, and turns a kind of ruddy brown in fall).

At 30 feet apart, I suspect there’s room for both to grow. But your decision on whether to cut either of them should be based on aesthetic criteria, rather than on which is the “better” tree.

Encores azaleas in bloom at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens today, July 20

Most of you probably have an Encore azalea or want some. They are a favorite for young gardeners because of their ability to bloom up to three times a year. There is a cluster at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens next to the library parking spaces that contains some of the best specimens I have ever seen (see image).
The one in the picture is about six feet tall and maybe just about that wide. It blooms spring, summer, and fall. The reason I think is three fold: they are never pruned, they are in the perfect location with regard to sunlight and soil, and they get watered. So here are my thoughts about caring for Encore azaleas and how you can achieve similar long term results.

  • Buy your plants in spring or summer where they can get established before their fall bloom.
  • Prepare the soil the very best you can with as much organic matter that you can get mixed into the native soil.
  • Make sure the hole you dig drains well and is at least two times the size of the container the plant is coming out of.
  • When planted, if the plants are root bound and the roots are going in a circle around the container, cut the roots in several places to encourage them to grow their roots out of the pot ball into the soil you prepared.
  • Plant the new plants about a half inch above the original soil line of the plant.
  • Pack the soil with your feet and water in the plants well.
  • Mulch with pine straw.
  • Keep watered during dry periods.
  • After each bloom period fertilize lightly with a quality fertilizer like 15-0-15.
  • If you must prune do not prune any shoots that have not finished blooming, and prune only the shoots that have finished blooming.
  • My guess is the shoots that look like they need pruning in the picture are some of the fall blooms of this plant.
  • Remember plants are on sale now, and if you are committed to watering, they are fine to plant now.

How To Prune Encore Azaleas

Encore Azaleas are unique in that they bloom in the spring and fall, and sometimes in summer. So when is the best time to prune them? Encore Azaleas do not have to be pruned, or their flowers deadheaded. That being said, they respond very well to pruning and, in fact, will benefit from it.

Unlike most other types of azaleas, which only set flower buds one time a year during fall and then bloom in spring, Encore Azaleas produce buds every time new growth is produced. So, pruning Encore Azaleas immediately after the spring bloom cycle will encourage more new growth, and consequently more flower buds. Then, sometime during summer, these new buds will begin opening and continue doing so through fall. For azaleas, this is quite an amazing phenomenon.

The next question might be: Should I prune my Encore Azaleas after the the fall bloom cycle? The answer is: no. Why? Because you want to avoid stimulating new, tender foliage that might be damaged or killed by an early frost or freezing temperatures. This kind of cold damage can cause stress the plant. So, to avoid problems, cease pruning Encore Azaleas two months prior to the usual first frost date in your area. In the South (Zones 8-10) this means September. Further north (Zones 6 and 7) this might mean August. Find your USDA Zone here.

TIP: Fertilizing Encore Azaleas after the spring bloom cycle pruning will help to promote overall health and vigor, and more new growth, which means more flower buds. I feed my azaleas with a product called Nitroganic Fertilizer, which is a “goof proof” organic fertilizer that contains 3% naturally occuring iron and helps to keep the deer away that live on the property next door. But any good Azalea, Camellia, & Rhododendron type fertilizer will do. Azaleas prefer an acid soil so make sure the fertilizer you choose contains extra-added sulfur and/or iron. This will help keep the foliage nice and dark green and increase flower production.

How To Prune Encore Azaleas

When pruning a healthy Encore Azalea, use sharp hand pruners to cut back branches that have outgrown the rest of the shrub and are spoiling the shape of the plant. Cut these branches back to a point just a couple or few inches above the main form of the plant. Make your cuts about an inch or so above a leaf.

TIP: Avoid using hedge trimmers to prune your Encore Azaleas. Doing so will cut leaves in half, leaving your azaleas with an unsightly appearance. A pair of sharp hand pruners, also known as bypass pruners, works great for selective pruning.

Rejuvenation Pruning of Old Azaleas

Rejuvenation pruning is a technique most often used to restore older, tired and thinned out plants to health. When using this pruning technique on azaleas, it involves cutting the branches of the shrub back to short stumps. This is the only way to remove all of the old wood and provide the plant with one hundred percent juvenile wood loaded with leaf buds and, in the case of Encore Azaleas, flower buds.

When and if your Encore Azaleas require rejuvenation pruning, there are two basic methods for doing so. You can cut the overgrown shrub back in one fell swoop, or spread the pruning out over several seasons.

One Fell Swoop…
If you choose the all-at-once approach, cut all the branches back to 6-12 inches above ground level in late winter or very early spring, right before they would ordinarily flush out with new growth in spring. When using this method, do not feed the azalea after pruning. After pruning, the shrub will typically grow a fair amount new growth in the first year but may not start to produce blooms again until the second year. By the third or fourth year after the pruning the shrub should be of a fair size and have a nice, compact shape. From this point on, you can prune it lightly as normal.

Gradual Approach…
The more gradual approach to rejuvenation pruning involves spreading the process over a three year period; cutting 1/3 of the stems to within 6-12 inches of the ground at the beginning of each growing season. By the end of this time, all the old wood will be removed and only healthy new growth will remain. When using this method, you can feed as normal after pruning.

Encore Azaleas

People who adore spring-blooming azaleas can now enjoy an explosion of colors season after season with the Encore Azalea. Each of the many Encore varieties begins their performance with the spring flowering season. Once this “first act” of blooming concludes, new shoots begin to grow and set new buds. The Encore Azalea’s “second act” opens when these buds begin blooming into full color during the summer. This unique bloom season continues through the fall, with the curtain dropping with the onset of colder weather. This is followed by the show beginning anew in the spring.

Info and Care of Encore Azaleas

Size

Encore Azaleas grow on average to 2.5 to 3 feet tall, with some varieties getting even larger. Regardless, all varieties can be trimmed to maintain a smaller size after their initial spring bloom.

Light

Encores can grow in full sun or filtered shade. They prefer morning sun and too much shade will result in reduced blooms and poor performance.

Soil

Does best in slightly acidic, well-drained soil with some organic matter added in.

Water

Encore azaleas like to have slightly moist soil when first planted. Keep your Encores watered in the summer to keep the soil moist but not sopping wet. Once established (after the first year), Encores should not need regular watering unless there are periods of excessive drought.

Fertilizer

Use Espoma Holly Tone or any azalea fertilizer in spring. Do not fertilize again until after August.

Varieties

See below for just some of the many varieties of Encore Azaleas carried by Meadows Farms Nurseries. Be advised that not all locations carry every variety, so please call your local Meadows Farms location for availability.

  • AUTUMN AMETHYST

    Clusters of blooms that are hot pink with lavender highlights cover this azalea in mid-spring and again for a lighter encore in fall; deep green glossy foliage turns dark purple in winter; needs highly acidic and organic soil that is well drained.

  • AUTUMN ANGEL

    Clusters of elegant, pure white blooms cover this azalea in mid-spring and tends to re-bloom all season; an upright shrub that is great for low hedging or containers; needs highly acidic and organic soil that is well drained.

  • AUTUMN CHIFFON

    Clustered blooms that are light pink with a deep pink blotch cover this azalea in mid-spring with additional, lighter flushes in summer and fall; deep green glossy foliage emerges light green; needs highly acidic and organic soil that is well drained.

  • AUTUMN EMBERS

    This captivating, compact evergreen shrub is bathed in clusters of beautiful reddish-orange blooms that will emerge all season; an excellent choice to mass in groupings as a focal point of the garden; must have rich acidic soil.

  • AUTUMN EMPRESS

    Clusters of semi-double blooms that are a medium pink cover this azalea in mid-spring and again for a lighter encore in fall; an upright shrub that is great for planting in groups; needs highly acidic and organic soil that is well drained.

  • AUTUMN PRINCESS

    Clustered salmon pink double bloomscover this azalea in mid-spring with additional, lighter flushes in summer and fall; deep green glossy foliage turns deep burgundy in fall and winter; needs highly acidic and organic soil that is well drained.

  • AUTUMN ROYALTY

    This captivating, compact evergreen shrub is bathed in clusters of beautiful violet purple blooms that will emerge all season; an excellent choice to mass in groupings as a focal point of the garden; must have rich acidic soil.

  • AUTUMN TWIST

    This interesting, compact evergreen shrub is bathed in clusters of beautiful purple and white striped blooms that will emerge all season; an excellent choice to mass in groupings as a focal point of the garden; must have rich acidic soil.

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Encore Azaleas For The Midwest (Review and Comparison)

When it comes to Azaleas, Midwesterners have always had the challenge of finding varieties that exhibit all the traditional attributes that make azaleas so popular in the south, and also have a reasonable level of hardiness. Southerners have always had a wide variety of plants of different shapes, sizes, and flower color variations to choose from in order to satisfy their azalea sweet tooth. But we in the Midwest have been limited and as re-blooming azaleas have come into existence that limitation has become more pronounced. Any azalea that blooms more than once a season is going to be more desirable than one that doesn’t, simply due to the increased number of days in bloom. The fact is that the vast majority of azaleas are hardy to the southern zones; 8, and 7 but not zones 6, 5, or 4, which represents most of theMidwest. As a result, the breeding programs that have been searching for that re-blooming characteristic are yielding plants that are not mid-west hardy because the gene pool for hardiness is just so limited.

Encore Azaleas-Hardy and Unique

Stepping into the picture is the Encore Azalea brand. Encore Azaleas have been bred and tested for about 15 years. When the brand was first introduced, there were several colors of different sizes and habits, but at best the plants could survive only as far north as zone 6b. One Variety, Autumn Amethyst, did show some signs of better hardiness and through a program of growing and evaluating in different regions further north, it has been determined that Autumn Amethyst is hardy to zone 6a.

Since the original introduction, the breeding has continued and more varieties are being introduced that show 6a hardiness. Couple this with the release last year of the new hardiness zone map by the USDA which shows all hardiness zones moving further north, and it is now possible to grow 6a Encores throughout central Illinois, most of Indiana, Missouri and Ohio, and even into Michigan.

What really makes Encores unique is the multiple blooming periods. Azaleas typically only bloom once a year which is in the spring and only for a 2-3 of weeks. Encores bloom in the spring, summer and fall. The cumulative effect is blooms that are showing for 2-3 months. The summer and fall blooming cycles seem to last longer than the spring cycle. A dilema this does present is when to trim? Encores are compact growers and don’t require much pruning but when they do it is best to prune once a year immediately following the spring bloom cycle. This will allow for maximum bud set for summer/fall.

Encore Varieties and Major Differences

Encore now has 13 varieties that are hardy to zone 6a. The following chart shows the major differences between the plants.

Which Encore Azalea Is Right For Me?

Choose the Encore that’s right for you based on location in which it will be planted. Make sure the plant wont out grow its location so choose for size first and then consider the rest of its attributes. The most important thing to remember about Encore Azaleas is they need sun. This is different than almost all other evergreen azaleas which prefer shade to sun. But the Encore needs sun, at least 6 hours. This is unique and allows us, the midwestern azalea lover, to now plant azaleas in locations and in composition with other plants that until now simply was not possible. This is a new and exciting possibility and promises to keep azaleas as a mainstay in the home landscape and more importantly, in the midwestern landscape, for years to come.

Azalea Shrubs

Azaleas are in the plant genus of rhododendrons. Over 10,000 different azaleas have been named so there are a large selection of sizes, flower colors, and bloom times to choose from when selecting an azalea plant. A wide variety of flower colors and patterns are also offered in the azalea family. There are deciduous azaleas and evergreen azaleas.

The evergreen azaleas are mostly natives of Japan. Azaleas do not like “wet feet’. Provide good drainage by planting azaleas with the tops of their root balls a few inches above the ground level and then mound soil up to the plants. Water needs are dependent on soil types, temperatures, winds and sunlight. Keep the root systems moist. In a dry fall, water heavily after a good frost. To avoid cutting off next year’s flower buds, do major pruning of azaleas soon after they bloom.

Established azaleas typically do not need any additional fertilizer if the azaleas are kept well mulched. The humus from the decomposing mulch provides adequate nutrients for the azaleas. If you do fertilize, it is best to apply it between late fall and early spring when the plants are dormant. Avoid fertilizing after June, to keep from pushing plants into active growth before the winter cold. The late growth is susceptible to frost and freeze damage.

Soil acidity (pH) for azaleas should be in the range between a low of 4.5 and a high of 6.0 for best results. Azaleas can be used in many ways in landscapes. They can be used as specimen plants or focal points, foundation planting, hedges, screens, and container plants. They can be placed in borders and beds, and along paths and driveways. Azaleas have so much versatility because of their varied characteristics of plant size, flower colors and bloom times.

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