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April 2010
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Azaleas – types, growing conditions and what care should be taken.

Azaleas are flowering shrubs making up part of the genus rhododendron. There are two major differences between azaleas and other rhododendrons. Azaleas are smaller, making a good house plant, and they flower in singular large blooms, whereas rhododendrons produce long strips of smaller blooms.

Types of Azalea

Evergreen azaleas (R. Tsutsusi) produce two sets of leaves every year dropping one set in the fall and the second in the spring, thus making them evergreen.
Deciduous azaleas (R. pentanthera) as the name implies lose their leaves in the fall. It’s commonly used as a flowering shrub and provides bright pops of intense color in spring gardens. Sunny yellows, vivid oranges, and intense magentas are just a few of the bright colors available in addition to more genteel pastels.

Growing Conditions for Azalea

– Plant in an area of semi-shade – the dappled shade beneath open-branched trees is a favourite location.
– They need protection from midday sun and winter sun.
– They like a mildly acidic, organically enriched soil (pH 5-6), so avoid applying lime or fresh manures.
– Before planting, feed soil with compost and aged manure to improve moisture retention.
– Don’t plant azaleas in cement pots or near new brickwork as the lime from the pot or mortar can leach into the soil, making it alkaline.
– Azaleas are surface-rooting plants, so they don’t need very deep soil to thrive – about 30-40cm is adequate.
– It is important with new plants to tease the roots out gently before planting, to help them establish well in the garden.
– After positioning in the hole, backfill, mulch and water well with a seaweed solution.
– Azaleas are grown from seeds, cuttings or grafting.
– Planting and transplanting Azaleas is best done in the early spring or early fall.
– When transplanting, replant bushes at the same level in the ground was they were in their original location.
– Smaller bushes transplant best.

Pruning and Maintenance

– Azaleas can be pruned to remove unwanted growth and diseased or damaged growth, and to shape them after flowering.
– Prune immediately after the plant stop flowering in the spring. If you wait until summer you will remove most of next year’s flowers. Cut back to a branch or bud and don’t leave big stubs.
– Cleaning up after blooming is probably enough maintenance.

Fertilizing Azaleas

– Young plants need extra phosphorus to encourage good root development.
– Feed azaleas every spring, after their flowers have finished, with either a pelletised organic plant food, or a slow-release granular fertilizer.
– Follow this with a layer of organic mulch to reduce soil evaporation and so reduce their water requirements.

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