Caring for azaleas
Gems of the spring garden, azaleas are loved for their masses of bright trumpet blooms and look fantastic planted en masse, although just one of these plants grown alone in a garden, with its vivid flowers, will brighten the gloomiest of spring days. Well-known acid loving plants they can be deciduous or evergreen, with the deciduous species often having the most glorious autumn colour just before leaf fall. Technically rhododendrons, it is easy to care for azaleas and they are often neater, more compact plants than their more rangy cousins, making them ideal for the smaller garden. They can even, if your soil is not acid, be grown happily in an ericaceous compost in pots.
Where to plant azaleas
When considering how best to care for azaleas it is vital to remember that they are ericaceous plants and must be grown in acid soil. Azaleas require a pH of between 5.0 and 6.0 to do well, so if you have tested your soil and it is more alkaline than this, plant azaleas in containers.
As to where to plant azaleas, they are happiest in a moist but well-drained, humus-rich soil in sheltered, dappled shade - avoid the deep, dry shade beneath trees, frost pockets and anywhere that gets the morning sun as this can damage their delicate flowers.
Before you plant azaleas, fill the planting hole with plenty of rich, neutral or acidic organic matter such as composted bark, leafmould or pine needles and do not plant too deeply. Azaleas and rhododendrons are shallow rooting plants and prefer their roots just covered.
How to care for azaleas
Low maintenance plants, it is easy to look after and care for azaleas once they are established. Give plants a generous mulch each spring and keep on top of deadheading spent and fading flowers to encourage new growth and further flowering next year. Once flowering is over, feed plants with a slow release ericaceous plant food. Azaleas do not need any regular pruning but if plants get straggly and start to lose shape they can be cut hard back. Most deciduous azaleas in particular will respond well to a severe haircut.
Care for azaleas in pots
To care for azaleas in pots, choose a wide container and stand it on pot feet to ensure good drainage. Plant azaleas in an ericaceous compost - soil based composts have a better structure than soilless ones, supporting plant growth for much longer and making watering and feeding easier. If you can only find a soilless ericaceous compost, ensure the best care for your azaleas by repotting them every other spring into fresh compost. Give container-grown azaleas a frost-free, shady spot on the patio and water them regularly in summer. To ensure the best care for azaleas, use rainwater if you can, which is less alkaline than water from the tap. Don't worry too much though if supplies run out in a dry summer, a month or two of tap water won't cause too much harm.