N. FL Novice Gardener: Advice on rehabilitating azaleas & hydrangeas?

by Bobbie
I am a novice gardener (no experience with flowers & very little with veggies). My family and I live in a rental property with long established azaleas & hydrangeas in the back yard. I know the plants could be so much fuller and produce more flowers, but they have been neglected for years. Any ideas for bringing them back (especially the hydrangeas)? The yard is VERY shaded.
  14 answers
  • Toni Toni on Mar 16, 2014
    In the Fall I would trim azaleas way back and then fertilize. Hydrangeas like shade but could also use trimming after they bloom.
  • Heather Pariso Heather Pariso on Mar 16, 2014
    I would try to nip them back after they bloom to slowly bring them back into shape for the upcoming year. I would use the 1/3 method where you don't take off more than a 1/3 of the plant. Also Toni is right fertilize them! Get some Holly Tone ;)
  • Connie Cunningham Connie Cunningham on Mar 16, 2014
    where are the hydrangeas? And cut the rhodos WAY back right after they bloom so you get flowers the next spring. Like 1- 1.5 ft tall. (where they start branching. Fertilize. And make sure you water them all enough. Dry shade is hard on anything.
  • Bobbie Bobbie on Mar 16, 2014
    Thank you! I'll get some fertilizer for the azaleas and look for "Holly Tone." The hydrangeas are the brownish-looking flowers in the first picture. They usually look like that for awhile and then a few flowers come up. You all say to cut the azaleas back after they bloom, and pardon my ignorance when I ask, but do you mean to cut them back after the entire bush stops blooming or after each flower has died? Is there anything to do currently about how wild and straggly they look? I really want to improve the hydrangeas. It is such a beautiful flower.
  • Tammy Tammy on Mar 17, 2014
    Cut after they bloom on both accounts. and fertilize. Holly Tone is what I use for most of plants in the shade bushes. H20 the heck out of them after you cut them back. They are both forgiving plants, so don't worry.
  • Douglas Hunt Douglas Hunt on Mar 17, 2014
    Follow the others' suggestion and cut the azaleas back aggressively after they bloom (the whole bush). It's hard to tell what kind of hydrangeas you have, but, again, the time to prune is right after they bloom.
  • Judy Bond Judy Bond on Mar 18, 2014
    I totally agree with fertilizing, watering, and cutting the azaleas back very aggressively after blooming. BUT supposing the hydrangeas are long established as you stated, they are probably the older variety whose new blooms come on old canes.Azaleas and hydrangeas bloom at different times of the year. So, I would cut them back after the azaleas bloom with the understanding you are not likely to have blooms this year on the hydrageas. You will hopefully have a much healthier plant for blooms next summer. Also, I think I would rake all those beautiful leaves, pine straw, and any other type mulch that may be available to you, around the plants. This will help to preserve moisture and keep the roots cooler in our HOT southern summers. Lastly, water, water, water!!
  • Kathleen Kathleen on Mar 18, 2014
    Cut them back right after they bloom or else new buds will form for next year and you will lose the new flowers. New flowers grow on old wood with the Hydrangeas my friends has, so be careful there. Good luck and enjoy the beauty:) Hollytone is great, but I have used coffee grinds and that works best to create blue hydrangea flowers as well:)
  • Carmen Carmen on Mar 18, 2014
    In addition to trimming I would test the soil to determine what you need for that particular yard. Try your local Extension Office. They may also have a Master Gardeners program, and you can get some great advice for your area.
  • Bobbie Bobbie on Mar 18, 2014
    What great advice from everyone! This site is awesome! I'll be out in the yard this weekend putting the advice to work. I looked at Walmart for the Holly tone, but I didn't see any. I plan on going to Lowe's and Home Depot to look there, as well. I'll try the extension office, too. I'm curious to see what my soil is like around the yard for other projects. I think they do have a Master Gardeners Program, so I'll check into it.
  • Joann S Joann S on Mar 18, 2014
    I would add coffee grounds to the soil around all your shrubs. They make the pH of the soil more acidic, which all three of these prefer. Compost is better than fertilizer, since it restores nutrients your plants need. I agree with Kathleen and Judy....cut back after blooming, since buds form for next year on old wood.
  • 360 Sod (Donna Dixson) 360 Sod (Donna Dixson) on Mar 18, 2014
    Holly Tone is a Espoma brand product. I don't know if they have it at the box stores. You might find it a local independent garden center. Espoma makes specific formulations for several types of different plants. The Holly tone is formulated for plants that prefer slightly acidic soil. If you can't find the Espoma brand there are others that will say 'for azleas, hydgrangeas. I join the chorus in agreement that you need a rejuvination pruning on both Hydgrangea and Azaleas and just as the blooms are spent. Happy Gardening!
  • HappyGrandmaGA HappyGrandmaGA on Apr 02, 2014
    I also heard to bury banana peels in the soil for any plant. At least the critters won't come and dig them up as when I tried to do the "lasagna" method of fertilizing & buried all sorts of table scraps. Too funny! Our yard is not fenced in so the critters had a feast.
    • Douglas Hunt Douglas Hunt on Apr 03, 2014
      @HappyGrandmaGA You're not supposed to use actual lasagne in a lasagne garden! LOL!