A Quick Guide to Azalea Care
A popular choice for a flowering bush in yard landscaping is the brightly colored azalea. Care of these flowering bushes is minimal, and they grow in conditions that many other plants find disagreeable, making these bushes a favorite among many gardeners.
A member of the Rhododendron family, azaleas sport colorful blooms in gold, orange, red, lavender, purple and pure white. These delicately scented blossoms blanket the bush with dense color, which is a distinct advantage in brightening the shady areas they prefer in the landscape. There are several varieties of azalea bushes, some of which are deciduous (dropping their leaves in the fall) while others are evergreen (retaining their leaves through all four seasons). Some species remain low growing, rarely exceeding two feet in height, while others can tower at over 12 feet.
Bloom times for the azalea are equally as diverse. Certain varieties of the bush begin flowering early in the spring; providing bright splashes of color in an otherwise dreary early spring landscape. Mixing these varieties with a few of the later blooming types can ensure that these lovely bushes will provide color throughout the spring months.
How to Grow
Azalea bushes can be planted any time through the year, and are easy to grow when provided the proper azalea care. They are typically purchased as a potted plant, but can also be propagated by cuttings or seeds. Starting the bush from seed is a lengthy and complicated process, taking up to 5 years to develop the first blooms. Rather, it is easier to purchase a stock plant from a nursery. Purchasing a plant already in bloom will assure that you are getting the color you desire.
Choose a location in your landscape that receives some sun in the morning but will at least be partially shaded in the afternoon. Check the soil for acidity; for optimal growth and blooming, azaleas must be in acidic soil with a pH between 5.0 and 6.5. Landscapes that are heavily lined with pine trees are great locations for these plants since they tend to be more acidic and can provide the shade the azalea loves. The soil should be moist; if drainage is a problem, some sand or fine gravel can be added to assist in draining excess moisture and mulching the plant will help the preserve moisture where it is normally dry. In addition, azaleas cannot be exposed to sustained winds; providing shelter in windy areas is vital to successful growth.
Start by digging a hole twice the size of the root ball of your plant in both width and depth. After removing the plant from the pot and loosening the roots slightly, position the root ball in the hole so that the top of the root ball is extending just a little above the surface. Fill with about ¾ of the soil and then add a food designed for rhododendrons before placing the remainder of the soil.
Keeping the azalea bush moist is an important factor in caring for your azalea bush, as they will suffer if allowed to dry out. Placing mulch around the plant base will hold moisture in, but weekly watering is necessary. Azaleas really do not need pruning, and doing so may eliminate the next year’s blooms. However, pruning can be done if a more uniform look is desired, and should be done in the spring if at all. If acidity is low, adding chopped pine needles to the mulch will help. Since azaleas are not specifically targeted by any type of insect or disease, insecticides are not generally needed.
Shady, acidic areas in the landscape can present a challenge to landscapers who want to introduce color and variety to these areas. However, these are the precise conditions that make the azalea bush thrive, making this flowering plant a favorite among many gardeners.