Azaleas – An American Favorite
Azaleas are true garden favorite and are popular in all types of landscape designs. To keep them blooming prolifically and as beautiful as they can be, however, you will need to follow a few special directions for their best care.
Azaleas need a well-drained location, as they will not thrive in an area that stays overly wet. They prefer afternoon shade, and too much sun can harm their leaves and fade the flowers, depleting their beauty. For their best growth, it is important to shelter azaleas from drying winds. The best locations in the landscape will be along the north, northeast or east side of a building or stand of evergreens or in the filtered shade under tall trees.
Azaleas may be planted any time of the year, even when in full bloom. Spring and early fall are ideal planting times so the plants are not stressed by the heaviest summer heat. Before planting, loosen the matted roots with a hand cultivator so they can spread and establish more easily.
To give azaleas the excellent drainage they require, they should be planted high, with half the root ball above the existing ground level in a hole at least twice as wide as the root ball. Amend the planting soil to provide good nutrition for these hungry plants. Once the plant is set in the planting hole, fill in around it with the planting mix, packing firmly to eliminate air pockets. Mound soil up to top of root ball. Water shrubs thoroughly with a diluted plant starter fertilizer to encourage root growth and help them establish more quickly. Mulch 2-3 inches deep over the planting hole, with mulch pulled away from plant stem to avoid insect infestations and rotting.
Spring and summer plantings should be watered 2-3 times per week until fall the year they are planted, then once a week until Christmas. Plants may need to be watered as often as once a day if they are small or the weather is hot. Always check the soil moisture level before watering. It should be lightly moist several inches down, but if it is drying out more frequent watering may be needed. In following years you will need to water your azaleas about once a week unless there is a good soaking rain. Plants will need more water in hot summers and while in flower to keep their growth and form lush.
The Need for Mulch
Mulching around azaleas is always a good idea, and can help them thrive. A 2-4″ layer of mulch should be maintained at all times over the root area of the plant, but pulled away from the stems. This keeps the soil cool and moist, helps control weeds and protects roots in winter.
Azaleas rarely need to be pruned. When pruning is required it should be done immediately after blooming, since if you wait to prune until summer you may cut off next year’s blooms and miss an entire flowering season. Azaleas may be sheared, as they will send out new shoots anywhere on a branch, or you may choose hand-pruning to create a neater form.
With a bit of considerate care, azaleas can be a showstopper in your landscape. Visit your local Master Nursery Garden Center for help choosing the best azaleas and learning all you need to know to keep them gorgeous year after year!