Azaleas are large flowering bushes that make a huge impact because of the sheer number of blooms they produce. They come in a wide range of varieties and colors. Although susceptible to some pests and diseases, many varieties of azaleas are pretty easy to care for.
Whether you use them as a stand-alone focal point or add them into an already colorful landscape, these cheerful flowers will not disappoint.
Azalea bushes prefer slightly acidic soil that's loose and well-draining. They like the soil to be a little moist, but if it doesn't drain properly, it can prevent oxygen from getting to the roots and lead to root rot. If your soil is a little heavy, mix it with 50 percent organic matter to improve aeration and drainage.
The most important thing to consider about space when planting azaleas is their root spread. Make sure you plant them in an area that is large enough for them to spread underground. You might be able to find this information on the tag if you bought your azaleas at a gardening center. If not, make sure you research the variety before planting.
Azaleas do best in light to moderate shade, so choosing the right spot to plant them is very important. Blooms will die faster on plants that are in full sun, especially on varieties that bloom later in the year, and they are more susceptible to pests and disease.
Though shade-friendly, too much isn't ideal, either. Not enough light produces weak plants and decreases flower production. Azaleas grow best at the edge of the woods or under other plants, where they receive dappled sunlight.
When planting azaleas in the spring, watering deeply is essential. The roots dry out quickly when there isn't a lot of rain, so be sure to keep the total rainfall in mind when watering.
When the soil is dry, water deeply to about 8 or 12 inches. Be sure not to get water on the leaves or blossoms — aim the hose or watering can right at the trunk and roots. Drip irrigation or soaker hoses are a great way to ensure the soil remains moist but not wet and to keep the water from coming into direct contact with the leaves.
Azaleas are susceptible to many pests, though some varieties are more resistant than others. Azalea lace bugs are a problem in some climates. They get their name from their lace-like wings and can cause significant damage. Planting a variety that is resistant to them, like Pink Star or Marilee, is the best prevention.
Spider mites may also cause a problem. They live on the underside of the leaves and suck out the sap. Ladybugs are a natural enemy to spider mites, so introducing them can help.
Also look out for red-headed azalea caterpillars, a moth larvae that feed on the leaves of the azalea and can defoliate large areas of the bush quickly.
Some varieties of azaleas are susceptible to many diseases. Root and crown rot is a fungal infection that causes the roots to rot and the plant to wilt. It's common when the soil is too wet or when the azaleas are planted too deeply in the ground.
Another fungal disease that can affect azaleas is petal blight. It begins as spots on the petals, then spreads and eventually rots the flower.
Leaf gall is a common fungal disease that causes distorted growth. The leaves and stems thicken and curl. Eventually, they develop a white powdery substance before turning brown and hard.
Azaleas need to go dormant in the winter, so start reducing how often you water them in the fall to harden them off for dormancy. Cover the base of the plant in mulch to help regulate the temperature and moisture content of the soil, but keep the mulch away from the main stem. If you live in an area with cold winters, cover the shrub in burlap as it approaches the first frost.
Be careful when pruning, too. Azaleas produce buds for next year's flowers the year before when the flowers fade, so all pruning should be done before this point to ensure you aren't accidentally cutting off next year's flowers!
To start plants from cuttings, wait until right after you water, then snip cuttings from the semi-hardwood. Wait until right after the bush flowers in the spring, or sometime in late summer to early fall. Remove leaves from the bottom third of the cutting, and trim it to just below a leaf node.
Lightly cut back the bark from about two inches of the stem. Dip the cutting in a rooting compound and place it into the soil to about one-third of the total length. Cover the cutting with a plastic bag to make sure the soil stays moist. Check regularly, watering when the top is dry. Cuttings should root in as little as 4 weeks.
One of the biggest benefits of growing azaleas is that once they establish themselves, they're very easy to maintain. You don't need to worry too much about fertilizer; just make sure the shrubs don't get too wet and you should be able to count on beautiful backyard color for years.
Azaleas also attract pollinators. While bees aren't drawn to all varieties, you're pretty much guaranteed to see butterflies and hummingbirds flocking to your plants.
There are thousands of varieties of azaleas. Here are just a few popular types: