In the Garden:
Spring-blooming azaleas like this Omurasaki type, a southern Indian hybrid, are followed by new cultivars that bloom in early summer and fall.
Azaleas are the leading spring-flowering shrub in our region, and new cultivars make it possible to enjoy them blooming in early summer and fall too. You can set out spring bloomers now--they're blooming in exactly the colors you want--and also plant beds with reblooming cultivars that flower again at season's end.
What Azaleas Want
Azaleas are tough woodland shrubs that grow best in shady spots where the soil is moist and acidic. Most hybrids can handle a half day of sun, but they still need ample water and soil with a pH below 6.0. It's best to plant azaleas while they are in bloom to get precisely the colors you desire. If you want reblooming azaleas, try the Encore series, whose members produce one set of blossoms in early summer and another in the fall.
Azalea roots are shallow, so it's best to plant azaleas a little above the hole, so the topmost roots are covered with mulch instead of soil. Dig a 12-inch-deep hole twice as wide as the pot and mix in one-third volume of an acidic soil amendment such as peat moss or leaf mold. Don't add lime, as it pushes the soil pH toward neutral, which azaleas don't like.
Finishing the Hole
Dampen the planting hole well and fill the bottom with native soil as needed so that the top of the rootball sits just above surface level. After you slip the plant out of its container, loosen the roots very slightly and spread them out. Add water as you gradually refill the hole so no air pockets are left around the roots. Spread an organic mulch at least 2 inches deep over the root zones of your plants. Keep newly planted azaleas moist throughout their first season, and you'll enjoy their colors for years to come.
Care to share your gardening thoughts, insights, triumphs, or disappointments with your fellow gardening enthusiasts? Join the lively discussions on our FaceBook page and receive free daily tips!