How To Grow And Care For Azaleas
Azaleas are one of the most popular ornamental shrubs for some very good reasons; they are dependable and they come in a multitude of brilliant colors. Azaleas light up the spring like few other plants can do. If you need any proof, watch the Masters Golf Tournament in April. You will see hundreds of blooming Azaleas in the background.
Azaleas are in the Ericaceae family, which has over 8,000 species and over 10,000 named varieties. It includes Azaleas, Rhododendrons, Pieris and Blueberries, among others. Although most varieties of Azaleas are evergreen, there are deciduous varieties as well.
Site Conditions Needed To Grow Azaleas
Light – Azaleas prefer partial shade although some varieties do quite well in more sun. This is ultimately determined by variety. At the very least, full blazing sun (south and west exposures) should be avoided. In these conditions the leaves tend to bleach out. Also, deep shade causes plants to grow lanky and not bloom very well.
Soil – Azaleas do not do well in soggy, heavy clay soils. These conditions will lead to root rot and ultimately, plant death. They prefer well drained soils. If planting in poor soil, plan to amend it a lot with well composted leafmold, pine fines or some other organic amendments. Also, plan to plant high, with the root ball 10-15% above grade.
Acidity – All plants in the Ericaceae genus prefer acidic soil. It is generally recommended to have a soil pH between 4.5 and 5.5. Soil can be made more acidic by adding iron sulfate to it.
Water – It is important to keep Azaleas well watered. Although overhead watering is okay, it could lead to fungal issues. It is best to thoroughly water the root ball by putting the end of a hose at the base of the plant or by using drip irrigation.
Mulch – Apply a 2”-3” layer of fresh, clean mulch in the spring. The preferred mulch is pine but if it is not available, use whatever is common in the region.
Pruning Azaleas is a time sensitive task. Azaleas should be pruned in the eight week period after they have finished flowering. Hand pruning is always preferred as it will keep the natural texture of the plant intact. Tip pruning them will create full, bushy plants. If the plant becomes too leggy, it may be regenerated by pruning it way back to latent buds in the stems of the plant. This should be done in the late winter or early spring so the plant has the energy to push new buds out. Although regenerative pruning will sacrifice some of that seasons blooms, a fuller plant will look better next season. It may to several seasons for the plant to fully fill out again.
Insects and Diseases
Azaleas are effected by several pest problems that need to be monitored. Among the most important are:
Lacebug – Look for paling foliage. When spotted, flip the leaf over and look for the very small insects, eggs and larvae on the underside. They often appear as black dots. Lacebugs are fairly easily treated with horticultural oils and soaps but make sure to spray the underside of the leaves. Lacebug is most prevalent when Azaleas are planted in full sun.
Phytophthora – This is a soil borne fungus that is usually fatal. It primarily occurs when Azaleas are planted in heavy, wet, soggy soils. The main sign of this disease is dieback of the plant. There are no good treatments for Phytophthora.
Deer – Yes, deer love Azaleas. If you must have Azaleas and you also have deer in your area, plan to apply deterrents and/or install deer netting.
Some Of Our Favorite Azaleas
Although there are thousands of wonderful Azalea varieties available, here are some of our favorites:
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