Azaleas - Art in the Garden

Evergreen and semi-evergreen Azaleas are a diverse mix of hybrids usually characterized as 'finicky' and hard to grow. They come in a wide array of colors, textures, sizes and bloom times. For the most part, Azaleas will grow in a wide range of conditions as long as certain criteria are met. In the Ozarks, we generally consider Azaleas under-story or shade plants. Some varieties, however, will tolerate full sun if the soil and moisture requirements are met. This pamphlet will give a brief summary of some of the necessary fundamentals for growing beautiful, healthy Azaleas in the Ozarks.

Where to plant

In the Ozarks, the optimal location for Azaleas should provide full to partial sun in the morning followed by full to partial shade in the afternoon. Consider the follOWing information when deciding where to plant your Azaleas: Partially shaded north and/or east slopes are ideal. These sites provide both wind protection and soil drainage. Protection from drying winds is important for all broadleaved evergreens, but particularly for shallow, tender rooted plants like Azaleas, Rhododendrons and Camellias.

Soil preparation

Now that you've decided where to plant your new treasures, the soil must be prepared. The most limiting factor in growing Azaleas in the Ozarks is our poor soil. Typical soils for our area are generally too heavy in clay for Azaleas to thrive; they prefer a well-drained soil that's high in organic matter. If your soil is red-orange and real 'sticky' when wet, your best bet is probably raised beds or berms. This allows you to control the structure of the soil, first by using good topsoil and then by incorporating a quality compost material.

If you're in an area with good soil, you should be able to manipulate your existing soil to give your plants optimum conditions. Soils high in organic matterwith a pH in the 5.5-6.5 range are ideal.

Maintenance

Despite popUlar opinion, Azaleas are not high maintenance plants. Choose the right site and properly prepare your soil and maintenance shouldn't be a major issue. As with any newly installed plant, providing adequate moisture is essential until your plants are established.

Pruning should only be necessary once a year. This should be done after they flower in the spring, but no later than mid-July to early August. Remember, Azaleas set their flower buds in the fall of the year, so don't wait too late to prune.

The topic of fertilizing is a bit controversial. I've read many sources that report you should only fertilize Azaleas in the spring right after they bloom.

However, deciding when and how much to fertilize should be determined by your soil. The following is a basic schedule that works well:

  • Use a higher nitrogen fertilizer after blooming to help initiate new growth and improve color.
  • Use a higher phosphate fertilizer in summer (late August to early September) to help in flower bud production.
  • Use a higher potassium fertilizer (and lower nitrogen) in the fall to help increase cold hardiness.
  • Depending on your soil structure and PH, it might be beneficial to use a fertilizer with a high iron source as well as some sulphur to help maintain optimum pH.

Pests

The only major insect pest on Azaleas in our area is lace bug. These tiny, flying insects are active in the hottest part of the summer and can do considerable damage. Because they feed on the undersides of the leaves, sprays aren't very effective against them and a systemic insecticide is recommended.

Occasionally, we see leaf spot diseases, but these are usually isolated and easily controlled with the application of a copper-based fungicide.

Root rot can be an issue and that brings us full circle to the planting recommendations. Root rot occurs when Azaleas are planted in soils that hold too much moisture. If the correct site was chosen and proper soil amendments and/or raised beds were employed, proper drainage should have been achieved and root rot won't be a problem.

General Care

It is advised that you mulch Azaleas, regardless of your chosen site and the soil preparation. Pine bark or pine straw are excellent choices, but hardwood mulches also work well. Your decision is really a matter of personal preference based on the color or texture that best fits your landscape. Stone mulches will work, but an organic mulch is a better choice. Limestone should be avoided based on its natural tendency to affect soil pH.

We hope you enjoy your azaleas and the beauty they bring to your garden. Garden Adventures has a variety of other flowers, plants, shrubs and trees to enhance your landscape and garden. Our professionals are happy to assist with your design, planting and maintenance questions.

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Garden Adventures Nursery
1900 W Mt Vernon St
Nixa, MO 65714

2.8 miles west of Highway 160 on Highway 14
Telephone: (417) 725-3223

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Mon - Sat: 8 am - 5 pm
Sun: 12 am - 5 pm (April to Oct)

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March:
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