A Foolproof Guide on How to Grow Azaleas
Colorful azaleas are among the earliest shrubs to bloom in the spring and a favorite of most gardeners for their easy care. This easy-to-grow evergreen is hardy and will look great in your landscape year around.
A properly planted and cared-for azalea can live for decades and produce colorful blooms from late winter through early summer. Hummingbirds, bees and butterflies enjoy the sweet nectar and pollen of azaleas, and you can enjoy them in all their colorful glory with these easy planting and growing tips.
Azaleas prefer to grow under taller shrubs and trees, and in acidic soil. A woodland area is an ideal planting location for azaleas; it naturally provides the shade and soil the shrub thrives in.
If you don’t have a natural woodland area in your landscape, plant azaleas in the shadow of any taller plants, never out in the open. Azaleas will not survive being planted in a full sun location.
A strong to medium acid soil is needed to grow healthy azaleas. A well-draining soil with an acidity level of 4.5 to 5.5 is ideal. Purchase a soil test kit to determine the acidic level and raise or lower it to best suit growing azaleas.
Adding pine straw will increase the acidity and compost will decrease it. Even if the results of soil tests are within the perfect acidic range, always add a four-inch layer of pine straw around the shrubs to act as a mulch and soil amendment.
If soil is too alkaline, it may take a couple of years to raise the acid level enough to support growing healthy azaleas. In the meantime, use containers and acidic potting soil to grow azaleas.
Large containers placed in a shady area will provide a nice habitat for the azaleas until the soil is ready. In the 1-2 years it takes to prepare soil, the azaleas will grow strong in the container and be ready for transplant while you enjoy the blooms.
How to Plant
Dig planting holes 2 inches shallower than the container. Azaleas have a high-growing root system and will not tolerate being planted deeply. An established shrub will have some roots exposed at ground level.
The hole should be shallow and wide. Dig the planting hole twice as wide as the container. Gently remove the shrub from container, loosen soil and roots with fingers and place in the center of the planting hole. Back-fill the planting hole with a mixture that is 75% original soil and 25% compost. The compost will feed the azalea and prevent soil compaction.
Planting holes should be spaced 4-6 feet apart. A mature azalea will be between 8-12 feet tall and equally as wide. The shrub can be pruned and kept at a desired size.
Pruning is rarely needed, but may be desired to keep the shrub shapely and at a desired size. Prune after the shrub has completed its blooming cycle, and that time will depend on the variety planted.
All azaleas varieties set their blooms for next season right after they finish blooming this season. Pruning azaleas any other time other than immediately after they finish blooming will result in a loss of blooms for next season.
Mulch Year Around
A four-inch layer of pine straw will help keep the soil and roots cool, retain moisture and prevent weed growth. As the pine straw decomposes it will add acid to the soil and improve drainage.
Other organic mulches, like hay or leaves, can also be used.
The above-ground roots system makes it necessary to keep a fresh layer of mulch around azaleas year around. The organic mulch will prevent the roots from drying out in summer and freezing in winter. Mulch also prevents the shrub from "heaving", a phenomenon that causes a plant with shallow roots to be heaved up and out of the soil through repeated cycles of freezing and thawing soil during winter months.
Native to Japan, this attractive shrub will completely cover itself with blooms in spring. Although it’s an evergreen, you will have to look hard to see the tiny green leaves during bloom time.
Azaleas are also well known for their toxicity. Centuries ago in middle Eastern countries, to receive a bouquet of azaleas blooms in a black vase was a death threat.
In its native country of Japan, there is a famous area known as Azalea Hill Park where the blooming shrub is celebrated each year with a flower festival. The famous park boats over half a million azalea shrubs and their springtime beauty is unrivaled.
Hong Kong, Korea and the United States also have a variety of spring festivals that celebrate the beautiful azalea shrub.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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