Buying and Planting Azaleas

Azalea Color Graphic

In Alabama, azaleas and dogwoods are the stars of spring flowers. The two plants look good together, but it is the azalea that brings the most variety and color in its beautiful flowers. Azaleas may be the most popular flowering shrubs in Alabama.

Buy plants that are sturdy with a good branch system. Don't buy plants with weak, spindling growth. This usually means the plant has a poor root system or that plants were grown too closely spaced in the nursery. The best size to buy is 12 to 16 inches tall. Smaller plants are more likely to be injured by cold.

When buying azaleas, remember you will get the most effective display of flowers by planting a mass of single variety instead of using many varieties and colors together.

Azaleas are usually bought as container-grown plants. They are sometimes pot-bound. This means they have a mass of roots growing around the outside of the ball of soil. Take the plant out of the container before you buy it. Make sure the roots are healthy and completely fill the pot. If you notice plants are pot-bound when you take them out of the container, massage the root ball to loosen some of the roots before planting. Also, pull some of the roots at the bottom of the root ball. This action will help roots to spread out and grow away from the original ball of container potting medium.

Azaleas can be planted any time of the year if proper attention is given to providing adequate water. Most people buy azaleas in the spring when the plants are blooming so they can choose the right color combinations. Fall is probably the best time to plant, however, because the plants can then become better established before hot weather.

Azalea Forms Graphic

Carefully consider your planting sites for azaleas. Pick a place with light to moderate shade. Azaleas receiving some shade during the winter usually suffer less cold damage. And, during hot weather, the flowers last longer on plants in filtered shade. Late-blooming varieties need to be in partial shade to prevent sunscald to the flowers.

Pine trees with moderate filtered shade give ideal protection for azaleas. However, heavy shade throughout the day may reduce flower production and result in weak growth. Evergreen trees or tall shrubs with low branches make good windbreaks and attractive backgrounds for an azalea planting.

Shallow-rooted trees, such as oaks, elms and maples, may compete with azaleas for moisture and nutrients.

If necessary, create raised beds for azalea plantings by adding pine bark or peat moss to improve drainage and lower pH. These beds should be 10 to 12 inches deep. This depth provides an artificial environment similar to a large container. Additional watering is required. Building raised beds over tree roots can be stressful and potentially damaging to the trees.

Soil conditions also should be considered in selecting a planting site. Azaleas require an acid soil pH (5.5) to grow properly. Check the soil pH of your site before buying azaleas. If the pH is above 6.5 you can expect to spend additional money and effort to maintain a pH in the proper range for plant growth. You may want to consider using other kinds of landscape plants for that site.

SOURCE: DR. DAVE WILLIAMS, Extension Horticulturist, Alabama Cooperative Extension System, (334) 844-3032