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Is it better to cut Azaleas to the correct hieght that you want such as 2 or 3 feet or should you cut the plants to the ground?
Don't cut them to the ground. You will kill them eventually. If you have to cut then do it at or just below what you want. Cut them in late spring after they bloom. If you do it in the fall or winter, you will cut off next years blooms that have been set. I personally don't like the lollipop method of pruning azaleas, but prefer a more natural pruning to keep them in check if needed.
The sooner you prune those azaleas, the better! In addition to all ed21 said, keep in mind that pruning after mid-summer will cut off next year's bloom. So look for flower buds before you decide to cut them back, if you want flowers next year.
We have old growth azaleas (possibly original from house built in 1964) that were slaughtered by some hack gardeners during a mild December. We instructed the 2 guys to "prune the landscape as necessary" as they attacked the azaleas during Christmas vacation.
My wife was livid and then cried when she saw the pruned branches on the driveway.
From what you both said, we won't see bloom this year. My wife has given them up for dead (and she refuses to do anything like fertilize, etc., and already told me it will cost $1,000 per old growth large-size plant and we have 6).
Can we help the azaleas to recover ?
That's a lesson learned when you have hacks doing landscaping.
I don't know why you won't try to help them. Azaleas are actually fairly tough plants & some out of season pruning isn't likely to kill them.
I would certainly fertilize them now with an organic like Hollytone or cottonseed meal or the fertilizer Plant Trust. For a few bucks of fertilizer they will probably recover & be good to go next year. You should be fertilizing them every year anyway.
I have 5 for these shrubs,over 30 years old, and they have been wrongly pruned by a couple of different landscapers over the years, I now do the landscaping and have gotten them back to there natural state, hopefully you can keep yours from dying off, just add some azalea fertilizer and hope for the best! Good Luck!