Guide to Azalea Shrub Care

Azalea border with mixed flower colors
My Garden Life
October 16, 2023
Table of Contents

Azaleas are one of the most popular flowering shrubs, and with good reason. They’re a versatile group of shrubs that are just as much at home in a wooded setting as they are a formal landscape. Azaleas vibrant blooms are a welcome relief from winter and a confirmation that spring has truly arrived!

With proper azalea shrub care, your plants can become more beautiful every year. Discover everything you need to know about how to properly select and care for azaleas so that they can thrive all season long.

Types of Azaleas

Azaleas are in the genus Rhododendron but their flower structure, foliage size, and bloom period differ from the shrubs commonly called “rhododendron”. There are many species of azalea but there are generally two types that you’ll want to be aware of when selecting azalea shrubs: deciduous and evergreen. You’ll want to consider the differences when choosing which azaleas to grow.

Characteristics of Deciduous Azaleas

  • Growth habit tends to be upright with more open branching.
  • Fragrant flowers appear early in the spring, just as the foliage is emerging.
  • Generally more cold-tolerant than evergreen species.
  • Can tolerate full sun as well as part-shade.
  • Larger leaves than evergreen types.
  • Leaves may turn shades of yellow, orange, and red before they drop in the fall.
  • Because the flowers are on bare branches, grouping several shrubs will put on a more colorful show.
Close up of the brilliant orange flowers of azalea orange flame-azalea shrub care.

Characteristics of Evergreen Azaleas

  • Growth habit tends to be more mounded and spreading, with dense foliage.
  • Flowers nearly cover the foliage during the bloom season.
  • Small, dark green, evergreen leaves are held on the shrub year-round.
  • Grows best in dappled sunlight or part-shade.
  • Hybrid varieties are now available that bloom in spring and again in fall.
Close up of red flowering evergreen azalea.

Where to Plant Azaleas

Azaleas perform best in well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. The soil should have an acidic pH (5-6). If you need to adjust the soil pH, use sulfur granules according to package instructions. Work some organic matter into the top 6” (15cm) of soil such as composted leaves, aged manure, peat moss, etc., which will help retain moisture and nutrients for your azaleas. Planting in unsatisfactory pH conditions causes problems like yellowing leaves and stunted growth. The pH level can also directly affect the soil nutrients available to plants.

When selecting a location for your azaleas, be sure to provide them with the right amount of sunlight – approximately four hours per day, preferably in a location partially shaded from the hot afternoon sun.

Good azalea shrub care means giving your shrub adequate space to grow. In general, you’ll want to distance your shrub about half of its expected mature height from other shrubs, walls or fences.

While azaleas appreciate moist soil, they don’t tolerate soggy soils. Avoid areas where water may pool or collect after rain or watering.

Quaint small white house bordered by a row of pink and white flowering azaleas.

Azalea Shrub Care – How to Get Healthy Plants and Beautiful Blooms

Azalea Water Requirements

Azaleas require plenty of water to stay healthy and vibrant. During the growing season, they should be watered at least once a week or more often during hot weather. To ensure that your azaleas are getting enough water, check the soil moisture level with your finger before watering; if it’s dry about an inch down, it’s time to give them a drink. When irrigating, make sure to stay away from sprinkling the foliage as this can lead to fungal ailments like powdery mildew.

Yellow and purple azaleas growing along a brick path through the woods.

Azalea Fertilizer Requirements

Fertilizing is also important for keeping azaleas in top condition and helping them reach their full potential in terms of size and blooms. A slow-release fertilizer designed specifically for acid-loving plants should be applied twice a year – once in early spring when new growth begins and again after flowering has finished in late summer or fall.

Always adhere to the directions on the product packaging so you don’t supply too much fertilizer, which can harm your azaleas.

A popular way to provide azaleas with organic nutrients and help acidify the soil is by applying used coffee grounds around azalea shrubs. Coffee grounds can also be used around other acid-loving shrubs such as rhododendrons, gardenias, and holly shrubs.

Healthy shrub border with rhododendrons and white, red, and purple azaleas in flower.

Mulching is Important for Proper Azalea Shrub Care

Azaleas tend to have shallow root systems. Mulching around azalea shrubs protects them by helping to keep weeds away, conserve moisture around the root zone during dry periods, and provides additional nutrients as the mulch gradually breaks down. Choose organic mulch such as bark chips, pine needles, or shredded leaves; these break down slowly over time releasing beneficial minerals into the soil as they decompose.

Spread a layer of mulch 2–3” (5-8cm) deep around each plant but make sure not to cover up any stems or trunks, as this could cause rot problems later on down the line.

Good azalea shrub care includes applying a layer of mulch around the base of the plant to retain moisture and protect shallow roots.

Pruning and Shaping Azaleas

Pruning azaleas is important to keep your plants healthy and blooming every year.

  • The best time for pruning azaleas is at the end of their bloom cycle in spring. If you wait until late summer or fall to prune, you might remove new buds with the old branches, minimizing their chances of flowering in the upcoming season.
  • Cut off any dead, injured parts as well as branches that overlap in order for air to move through the foliage. When trimming back older branches, make sure not to take too much off at once; instead opt for smaller cuts over multiple seasons if needed.
  • When cutting away excess foliage from larger plants, start by making a cut near ground level then work up towards the top in stages until you reach your desired height – never just take off all of one side at once.
  • Always use sharp shears when cutting back your azalea’s branches. Avoid using blunt tools which could cause damage or tear away bark from living woody stems.

Pruning and shaping azaleas correctly is essential to ensure healthy growth, beautiful blooms, and a thriving garden.

A brick home with azalea shrub foundation plantings pruned to maintain size.

Common Problems with Azaleas

Azaleas may be vulnerable to a range of illnesses and infestations. Common diseases include root rot, powdery mildew, leaf spot, and rust.

  • Root rot is caused by too much moisture in the soil which can lead to wilting leaves and eventual death of the plant.
  • White fungal growth on the leaves known as powdery mildew can cause yellowing or browning if not addressed.
  • Leaf spot is a bacterial infection that results in dark spots on the foliage while rust appears as orange-red spots on the undersides of leaves.

To combat these issues, it’s important to practice proper watering techniques: avoid overwatering your plants. If you see signs of illness or bug infestation, take prompt action with a suitable fungicide or pesticide product available from a nearby garden center.

Close up of azalea leaves with dark fungal spots and powdery mildew.

Regularly inspect your azalea shrubs for signs of stress such as discoloration or wilting then take action accordingly – whether it be providing extra water during dry spells, removing damaged branches due to storms or winds, giving additional nutrients via fertilizers etc. Taking these steps early on will ensure happy plants all year round.

What to Plant with Azalea Shrubs

Once the flowering season ends for your azalea shrubs you’ll want to be sure there are other plants nearby that will continue to add color and interest to your landscape through the summer. If you’re looking for companions to plant around your azalea shrubs we’ve got a list of suggestions in our article, Plants That Love Acidic Soil.

Colorful azalea and rhododendron shrubs growing among woodland ferns.

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