Azaleas rank among the most common plants we grow in our Southern landscapes.
According to the Azalea Society of America, more than 10,000 varieties of azaleas have been registered. With so many varieties, no nursery could carry even a tenth of them, but most nurseries do have plenty from which to choose.
And with so many choices, there is an azalea that will work in almost any landscape -- if you are willing to follow a few simple guidelines.
• Azaleas are not drought-tolerant plants.
• Most prefer filtered sunlight, or morning sun and afternoon shade.
• They need a well-drained acidic soil which is high in organic matter. Heavy, wet soils can lead to an early death.
Azaleas typically are sold in containers. When moving azaleas out of these pots, make sure to plant them slightly shallower than they were growing in their containers.
Score the root ball in several places to help the roots spread. Azaleas get root-bound quite quickly in a container. If you don't cut through these inward-wrapped roots, they will not try to branch out into the soil, and that will hinder establishment.
Mulch the plant with 2 to 4 inches of pine straw, leaves, pine bark, wood chips or whatever is available, but leave an inch around the stems without any mulch.
Then water it slowly and thoroughly. Water it again the next day, and at least once a week for several weeks. The goal is to settle the soil and remove any air spaces, and to make sure the disturbed roots have ready access to water while they grow into the surrounding soil.
Remember to watch small plants for a month or more, and large plants for a year or more, and water them deeply whenever they look wilted.
On established plants, an inch of rainfall each week is ideal. Supplemental water might be needed if the rainfall is much less than that, and it will be needed if there is no rain for long periods. Newly planted azaleas, those that were transplanted and azaleas that are in full sun or exposed to drying winds are most in need of supplemental watering.
Fortunately, drooping leaves show the need for water well before the plant dries out completely, and watering it slowly and deeply usually restores it within hours.
EVERGREEN VS. DECIDUOUS
Most evergreen varieties of azalea are native to Japan, while those that are native to North America are deciduous types that lose their leaves in the fall.
Native American azaleas come in shades of white, purple, pink, red, orange and yellow. They are also usually quite fragrant.
Evergreen azaleas come in shades of purple, pink, red and white, but no yellows or light oranges. Some plants have multiple colors, stripes or flecks in the blooms.
Azaleas come in a wide range of mature sizes. There are dwarf plants that grow no taller than 10-12 inches and large southern indicas that can grow 12-15 feet tall.
All azaleas can be grown in the southern two-thirds of Arkansas, but gardeners in the northern tier of counties do have to choose a bit more wisely, since cold tolerance can limit their choices.
All azaleas should bloom in the spring, but there are now re-blooming varieties such as Encore and ReBloom that can bloom again in the fall.
WHEN TO PRUNE
If pruning is needed, it should be done in the spring but only after bloom. Flower buds will begin to set in the late summer into early fall. If you prune after mid-June, you limit the plant's ability to rebound with new growth and set good flowers for the next season. The longer after mid-June, the more the bloom is affected.
If you choose your varieties with plans for the mature size you want, you reduce the need for major pruning.
There are many gardeners interested in growing and learning more about azaleas. The Azalea Society of America was formed to further the understanding and interest in this plant. They offer membership to anyone interested in azaleas, from home gardeners to students, plant collectors and plant professionals.
There are local chapters across the country, but once a year they hold a national convention. This year, the convention is coming to Little Rock, April 5-7, at the Holiday Inn Little Rock Airport Conference Center at 3201 Bankhead Drive.
Since there will be quite a few azalea experts from across the country in town, they are teaching a one-day, open to the public Azalea 101 class titled "Basic Education About the South's Most Popular Landscape Shrub." The seminar will be held from 8 a.m.-2:30 p.m. April 5 at the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture State Cooperative Extension Service Office, 2301 S. University Ave. in Little Rock.
Topics include variety selection, basic culture and care, propagation, insects and diseases, and more.
Speakers include Rick Bauer, president of the Azalea Society of America and its Northern Virginia chapter; Ronnie Palmer, from the Arkansas chapter; Buddy Lee, Louisiana chapter; Robert Thau, Texas chapter; Charlie Andrews, Georgia chapter; Allen Owings, Louisiana chapter.
The $45 registration fee includes all educational sessions, handouts, lunch, refreshments and a six-month membership in the society. The membership includes a quarterly publication, The Azalean, which has timely articles about azaleas and other educational opportunities.
Space is limited and preregistration ends March 1. To register, visit tinyurl.com/AzaleaDay.
Registration for the full conference is $200 and space is limited to 50. The conference opens on a Thursday evening and ends on a Saturday evening. Its agenda includes two days of garden tours and speakers each evening. You can download a registration form to mail in from azaleas.org/convention, or you can log on and register online at tinyurl.com/PrettyAzalea.
For more information on azaleas and their culture and care, or to learn more about the society and the conference go to azaleas.org.
Janet B. Carson is a horticulture specialist for the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.
Yellow or orange blooms suggest this is a native American azalea, which will lose its leaves in the fall.
Some evergreen azaleas have flecked or striped flowers.
Petal shapes vary greatly, from round and overlapping to flat, curved, wavy, ruffled or thin and straplike, as above.
Buy azaleas with their mature size in mind to avoid onerous pruning chores.
Azaleas are understory plants that do well in filtered sun or morning sun with afternoon shade.
Look closely and you can see next season’s flower buds have formed on this azalea branch in August. Pruning would prevent flowers.
Encore azalea varieties bloom in the spring and the fall.
Azaleas are not drought tolerant plants; a bit of mulch can help to conserve soil moisture.
HomeStyle on 01/27/2018
Print Headline: Amazing azaleas: Simple guidelines can help keep your landscape lush and beautiful