Planting, caring for azaleas
By Ray Ridlen
Azaleas are best adapted east of Highway 48 in eastern Oklahoma. However, many are planted each year in central and western Oklahoma.
The proper site for planting azaleas must be partially shaded and sheltered from strong winds, in all seasons.
The soil must be well drained and should be between 5.0 and 6.0 pH. Daily irrigation is necessary in dry, hot weather. This is often true in cold, dry weather.
Keep the plants mulched, without plastic. Do not cultivate. Nutritional deficiencies and improper pH are compounded by drought, heat and wind. Weather damage can be mistaken for nutritional problems, but a nutrient deficient plant will have less drought and/or weather resistance. Careful attention to acidity and fertilizer is critical on sites and areas poorly adapted for azaleas.
Special azalea fertilizers are blended with micro-nutrients. Such fertilizers are usually adequate. If the label does not include magnesium, buy Epsom salts. Use at one pound per 100 square feet of planting bed.
Lawn fertilizers often have herbicides incorporated with them or are alkaline in nature which makes them undesirable for acid loving plants like azaleas. Do not use fire place ashes on azaleas or most other shrubs.
As a rule of thumb, frequent pinches of fertilizer are better than a pound occasionally if the plant is not deficient. A nutritionally impoverished plant cannot very well resist weather extremes, diseases, or pests.
Apply fertilizer before the flowers emerge or just as they fade. Follow label recommendations for rate of distribution. Wait for the first paling of foliage before applying more fertilizer. Or, use half the recommended rate every 4 to 6 weeks through June and again in September and October. In November, return to the recommended rate.
Be sure to keep plants well watered. One hot day without water can “cook” an azalea. Freezing dry weather can also kill them.