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Azaleas

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. — The bursting blooms and colors of azaleas guarantee them to be the star of any landscape. With fall just beginning, now is the best time for gardeners to purchase and plant their azaleas. Planting them now will allow them to establish and grow so they are ready to bloom next year.

Lucy Edwards, an Alabama Extension home grounds, gardens and home pests regional agent, said azaleas might just be the most popular flowering shrubs in Alabama. She offers the following information on purchasing and planting azaleas.

Azaleas

Purchasing

Azaleas are most often bought as container-grown plants. The plant can sometimes be pot-bound, meaning the azalea has a mass of roots growing around the outside of the ball of soil.

“Take the plant out of the container before you buy it and make sure the roots are healthy and completely fill the pot,” Edwards said. “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.”

Edwards also said that pulling some of the roots at the bottom of the root ball helps the roots spread out and grow away from the original ball.

When buying plants, choose ones with sturdy branch systems that are ideally 12 to 16 inches tall. Plants smaller than this are more likely to be injured by cold weather.

Edwards said when buying azaleas, remember that planting a mass of a single variety will give a garden the most vibrant display of flowers. However, many varieties and colors planted together, will prolong the flower’s bloom time.

Planting

Azaleas can be planted any time of the year, but fall is best. This is because they can become better established before hot weather sets in.

Edwards said that growers must carefully consider planting sites for azaleas.

“Pick a place with light to moderate shade. Azaleas receiving some shade during the winter usually suffer less cold damage,” Edwards said. “During hot weather, the flowers last longer on plants in filtered shade. Late-blooming varieties need to be in partial shade to prevent sun scald to the flowers.”

Planting them in an area that has heavy shade throughout the day may reduce flower production and result in weak growth. Moderate filtered shade by pine trees provides ideal protection. Tall shrubs with low branches and evergreen trees make attractive backgrounds and good windbreaks for azaleas.

If necessary, create raised beds for the azaleas by adding peat moss or pine bark to lower pH and improve drainage. These beds should be 10 to 12 inches deep, creating an artificial environment similar to a large container. If growers choose this planting option, know that additional watering is required. Also, note that raised beds built over tree roots can be stressful and potentially damaging to the trees.

Soil Testing

Growers should consider the soil’s condition when selecting a planting site. Before buying azaleas, check the soil pH of the site. An acid soil pH (5.5) is required for azaleas to grow properly. If the pH is above 6.5, growers can plan to spend additional money and effort to maintain the soil pH in the proper range for growth.

To determine soil nutrient levels and pH, growers should perform a soil test. Soil testing boxes and instruction are available at many county Extension offices. For more information about soil testing, visit the Auburn University Forage and Soil Testing Laboratory website. More information can also be found in the Alabama Extension content piece Submitting Samples for Soil Testing.

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