Want to add something to your landscape that requires only a small amount of work yet rewards you with a colorful springtime display and year-round greenery? Why not try azaleas?
Azaleas are rarely subject to damage from insects or disease and ask only that their basic growing requirements be met. Let’s take a look at what these requirements are.
First, and probably most important of all, is an acid soil in which to grow. The best and easiest way to achieve this is through organic means; start by mixing decayed pine needles, decayed oak leaves, or the soil from beneath pine or oak trees into the backfill of the soil being added around your azaleas as you plant them.
Once your plants are established, their acid-craving nature can be satisfied by maintaining the proper mulch around them. Again, pine needles or oak leaves or a combination of the two makes an excellent mulch for your azaleas. The weight of the pine needles helps to keep the oak leaves from blowing away; and an occasional watering, especially during times of little rainfall, also helps keep the materials in place for the long period of time needed for decay of the needles and leaves. The mulch should be maintained at a depth of at least 3 to 4 inches, as azaleas tend to be rather shallow rooted. You may want to give your plants an occasional feeding of specially formulated azalea food available in your local garden centers to boost their growth, particularly until the azaleas become well established and until the organic mulch materials start to break down and provide an ongoing source of food for the plants.
What else do azaleas need in addition to the above-mentioned acid soil and acid mulch? Sunlight, of course, but how much? Once again, these undemanding little garden jewels don’t ask for much, and in fact do their best work in filtered sunlight. This makes them ideal as intermediate level plants to be used in your landscape in between the taller growing plants such as dogwood trees or even taller growing shade-providing species such as the maples, and the lower growing annuals and bulbs which provide seasonal color and diverse texture in your garden.
Anything else we can do for our little friends to insure their long life, happiness, and profusion of springtime blooms? Actually, there is one more basic requirement; just don’t bother them! By that, we don’t mean they have the personalities of surly teenagers, we mean they just don’t respond well to poking, prodding, and cultivation. So, give them their space, please, and whatever you do, don’t dig around them trying to add bulbs or annuals too close to these beauties; remember their sensitive shallow-rooted nature?!
About the only other cultural requirement needed is a light pruning each spring just after the azaleas have finished blooming. This way, the blossoms that will provide next spring’s show will have time to form during the summer growth period. Prune with the idea of keeping the azaleas at the size and shape you desire, remembering as you shape your plants that the flowers will form at the growing tips of each branch. Try to keep denseness and fullness of the overall plant in mind, pruning to encourage as much branching as possible.
Azaleas are available in a variety of colors, from pinks and reds to white, lavender and shades of orange. As you work azaleas into your landscape, think of this diversity of colors available to you and of how these can be used with the other flowers, shrubs, and trees you will plant in your garden. If you’re not sure what colors or textures you will add later, you can’t go wrong by planting white-blooming azaleas, since they will work well with any colors you add later or will make a colossal showing on their own.
Be kind to your garden friends, the humble little azaleas, and give them an acid soil, acid mulch, some filtered sunlight, and freedom from the encroachment of your digging tools around their shallow roots; in return, they’ll give you evergreen foliage topped off with a colorful springtime show of blooms!