Azaleas are just one of those shrubs that make everyone happy because they know that spring has finally arrived. The blooms come in a variety of shapes and colors from white to pink to red to purple and even orange! Growing azaleas is easy if you follow a few simple steps.
- Bloom in early Spring to Fall
- Location with morning sun and afternoon shade
- Moist but well drained soil
- Fertilize right after flowers die
- Prune after spring flowers fade away
- Protect from harsh winter winds
Azaleas and rhododendrons are kissing cousins. Rhododendrons have broader leaves and are typically much larger than azaleas. There are several different types of azaleas but they mainly fall into 2 classes, evergreen and deciduous. The native azalea is deciduous, meaning it loses it leaves after a frost and grows new ones in the spring. Their flower is very showy and large with the pistils (plant parts) extending far outside the flower. They tend to grow tall and skinny. Evergreen azaleas keep their leaves year round and grow wide and low for the most part. Their flowers are still showy but not as large as the native azaleas. The flowers on azaleas are described as a single hose, semi double hose, double hose, single in hose and other descriptions.
When Do Azaleas Bloom?
Native azaleas can bloom from early spring to autumn depending on the species and your locations. Evergreen azaleas bloom from early spring to late June depending on the species and your location also. The one exception are the Encore azaleas which will have a second bloom period from late summer until late fall. It is important for you to know which growing zone is for your garden before purchasing any plant.
Azaleas prefer the morning sun and afternoon shade, and do not like too much sun. Prepare an area for them when they will be protected from drying winter winds, salt spray and driveways and sidewalks that will be too hot for them. Add plenty of organic matter to the spot too. They need a moist, not wet area where the pH is below 7.0, preferably 4.5 - 6.0. Dig a hole the same depth at the container or the balled and burlapped plant but 2 ½ -3 times as wide, so that the roots have plenty of room to stretch out.
Water the azalea well before planting to ensure it is well hydrated. When removing it from a container, if the roots are circling around or it seems to be more root that soil, make several vertical cuts around the side of the root ball with a sharp knife to loosen the roots before planting. Plant at the same depth as it was in the container. If planting from a B&B azalea, make sure to remove all the roping and burlap so the plant can grow to its full potential. After placing the plant in the hole, backfill with the amended soil. Simply press the soil down with your gloved hands and don’t your feet because that will compact the soil and not allow oxygen to reach the feeder roots. Water the area thoroughly allowing the water to seep in gradually.
When watering azaleas, water at the base of the plant to prevent any leaf diseases. That is a good idea for all plants. Add 2 inches of mulch, either pine straw if available or shredded hardwood bark. None of that colored stuff. Keep the mulch away from the trunk about 2 inches to prevent rodents from chewing on it. Replenish mulch as needed every year. Mulch also breaks down and adds nutrients to the soil.
Azaleas are easy to care for in the landscape. Water as necessary but no need to fertilize except once a year and very lightly. Use something like Espoma Holly Tone for fertilizer. And always fertilize immediately after they bloom. If you fertilize too late, you can affect next year’s blooms.
If you must prune the azalea don’t use hedge shears. Simply use a pair of pruners and follow the branch you want to prune to inside the plant, hiding your cut. This way it doesn’t look like Edward Scissorhands paid you a visit! Azaleas are a long lived plant if properly cared for and can live as long as 50 years although they are a slow grower.
Winter Care for Azaleas
Winter care is easy for azaleas too. Since many azaleas are evergreen, if planted in a windy area, a covering of burlap will protect it from drying winter winds. If you are opposed to that there is an item called Wilt-Pruf that is an anti-transpirant. In other words it keeps the leaves from losing moisture and is available in most garden centers.
A healthy plant is less susceptible to diseases and insects. Two of the most common insects you will find on azaleas are lace bugs and leaf miners. You are likely to see if the plant is under too much stress. If planted in too much sun, lace bugs are likely to affect the shrub. Lace Bugs are tiny and have wings you can see through. They feed on the undersides of the leaf, leaving a mottled looking leaf. You can find tiny football shaped eggs on the underside of the leaf as well as bits of frass aka insect poop. Leaf miners make little tunnels in the leaves.
Disease can affect azaleas also but proper care will prevent most diseases. Refrain from overhead watering and instead water at the base of the plant taking care to water all around the plant. That will eliminate fungal issues. Make sure that water isn’t ponding around the plant after heavy rainstorms. You may need to move the plant or improve the drainage around it.