Azaleas are a signature of Southern gardens—we even featured them in the first issue of Southern Living (in February 1966!). We love azaleas not only for their vibrant blooms but also for their low maintenance. Few plantings are as hands-off as azaleas, and for a busy gardener, «hands off» is a magic phrase. While azaleas can practically take care of themselves—they’re very independent once established—there are a few things you can do to ensure they thrive every year. Here are the ways to help your mature azaleas continue to bloom.
Pay Attention to the Soil
Azaleas like well-drained soil. If your azaleas find themselves in too boggy a spot, they might begin to show signs of distress. Well-drained soil needs to be well-aerated so the roots get enough oxygen. Also, never plant azaleas too deep.
They also thrive in slightly acidic soil—a pH between 4.5 and 6 is ideal. It is also a good idea to provide enough mulch at the base of the plant to keep the area moist and slightly acidic. Azaleas with shallow roots, in particular, will dry out too quickly and need more frequent watering.
Water When Necessary
If the soil your azaleas are planted in becomes too dry, the plants will not be happy. An optimal environment is composed of moist, well-drained soil, so if a dry period brings about drought conditions, uncoil the garden hose and give your thirsty azaleas enough water to moisten the soil.
Azaleas» roots are more shallow than other shrubs, staying at the top of the soil, so water deficiency or overwatering can significantly impact its sustainability. The balance of moist, not wet or dry soil is most important—this prevents a drastic change in soil temperature. Overwatering increases the risk of root rot, which destroys the shrub. Excess water on leaves can encourage fungal disease.
Before the winter, properly submerge azaleas» roots in water so they can absorb enough moisture to make it through the cold weather.
It’s a good idea to give your azaleas the occasional prune so that they don’t become unshapely and, as The Grumpy Gardener says, «scraggly.»
However, it’s essential to prune during the proper time, or you’ll miss out on blossoms next year. Grumpy advises, «Because azaleas bloom on old wood, they produce flower buds on last year’s growth. You won’t hurt the plant by pruning during warm months, but if you want flowers, hide your clippers after spring. The best time to trim azaleas is just after they’ve finished blooming.»
Fertilize and Mulch When Needed
Azaleas don’t require fertilizer, but an organic compost can benefit drainage, help soil pH, or increase nutrient retention based on your shrub’s requirements. A peat moss and perlite mixture can help azaleas when used as mulch at the roots. Don’t place the mulch near the shrub’s trunk, as it can attract pests to the wood.
Be Aware of Pests
Insects and plant disease don’t often damage azaleas, but some ailments include lace bugs, root rot, and mineral deficiencies. Most pests, like lace bugs, can be removed by spraying the leaves with a hose or applying neem or horticultural oil. Root rot is more devasting as it ruins the soil where the azaleas are planted, preventing future growth. The phytophthora root rot disease is a fungus that first appears as azaleas with less shrub growth, as new branches or leaves will not form. Next, the leaves will curl, changing colors, and eventually spread to the bark, appearing dark brownish—Proper drainage and correct soil pH help to prevent azaleas from getting root rot in the first place.
Do you have blooming azaleas in your yard? Are they some of your favorite Southern flowers?