Azaleas are one of the all-time favorite spring flowering shrubs. An established azalea can live for decades and produce colorful blooms from late winter till early summer, depending on the variety planted. Learning how to care for azaleas is an important part of their success, so find out how to properly care for your spring bloomers.
How to Care for Azaleas
Hummingbirds, bees and butterflies are all attracted to the sweet nectar and pollen of the azalea. The evergreen shrub looks great in the landscape year around, though the 2 to 3 weeks of blooms each spring are definitely the highlight of growing azaleas. Use these planting and care tips so you can enjoy the beauty of azaleas in your landscape.
Where to Grow Azaleas
Azaleas are understory plants, meaning they prefer to grow under taller shrubs and trees and/or along your home in flower beds. They will need a little shade from the afternoon sun, so if you can’t plant them under a taller plant, place them in a location where they will be shaded in the afternoon. We have most of our azaleas along the front of the house, where they receive good morning sun and are shaded from 1pm on. If you’ve never considered the parts of your yard that get the best sun for growing azaleas, then consider creating a Sun Map to help you assess your yard. It’s an easy way to know what areas of your yard receive the best sun for growing certain plants.
Best soil for Azaleas
Azaleas also love acidic soil, and all species of conifer trees increase the acid level of soil. Under the shade of pine trees is the perfect location for a grouping of these flowering beauties.
But, any well-draining soil with a pH of 4.5 to 5.5 that is well shaded is an ideal location. Soil acidity can be raised with the addition of compost and/or pine straw. If you’re not sure what your soil pH is, then I recommend having a soil test done. This is a (usually) free service from your local cooperative extension office, and it will give you results on your soil pH, nitrogen, and phosphorus levels. This is invaluable to any gardener who is wondering about the best place to put plants and whether the soil is right for that plant.
Azaleas have high-growing roots and will not tolerate being planted deeply. So beware to plant the top of the root ball right at ground level and not lower.
The planting hole should be shallow, but twice as wide as the original container. Gently remove the shrub from the container. Loosen roots with your fingers and place in the center of the planting hole. Back-fill the planting hole with 50% original soil and 50% compost. Water well.
Space azaleas 3-4 feet apart as they can get quite large once they’re older and more established.
Mulch and Fertilize Azaleas
Azaleas must be kept mulched year around due to their shallow root system. A 3-inch layer of pine straw, hay or other organic matter will keep roots cool, protected and moist.
The mulch will slowly decompose and add nutrients into the soil, but a little springtime feeding is also a good idea. After the shrub has finished blooming add a garden trowel of compost around the plant base and water well.
An acidic fertilizer specifically formulated for azaleas can be used instead, but good, rich compost is the best choice. My recommendation for an acidic fertilizer is Espoma’s Holly Tone; it’s great when you don’t have fresh compost on hand.
Keeping azaleas pruned properly is an important part of healthy growth and maintaining an attractive shape. (See my full post on How to Prune Azaleas to see how we brought our 50 year old azaleas back to “life”.) Prune azaleas immediately after they have completed their blooming cycle, if needed. All azaleas set their blooms for next season right after they finish blooming this season. If you wait too long to prune, you will be cutting off next year’s blooms.
Knowing how to care for azaleas will give you consistent blooms each year and a healthy plant overall. And healthy plants are much less susceptible to diseases and pests. Plants that are struggling to survive actually attract pests and have weakened defenses against disease. So, caring for azaleas by planting them in the proper location and soil type will give you the upper hand in having healthy shrubs.
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