I was asked in the comments section on a previous post for some advice on how to grow and care for Azaleas. I am definitely not an expert, far from it, but I admit that my Azaleas are probably the most reliable and prolific of all the flowering plants I have in my garden. Every spring they surprise me when they start flowering and continue to do so for what seems like weeks on end.

I ♥ the Azaleas in my gardenLove Azaleas

What’s not to love about them?I ♥ the Azaleas in my garden

A wonderful mass of colourA wonderful pop of colour

They really pop in this bedThey really pop in this bed

In my experience, they are fairly easy to grow and trouble-free. That is, provided they are planted in the right position and not unnecessarily disturbed. They like shade (dappled shade seems to work better than full shade – the ones in dappled shade flower earlier and longer than the ones in deeper shade) although I have two which are in a sunny location (more sun than shade). They do well but they can get a bit scorched if the weather gets really hot. In full sun delicate flower colors bleach quickly even though the plants grow well.

In my garden they are used as background evergreen shrubs, the spring flowers are an amazing bonus on a plant that remains green and lively throughout the year and is rarely attacked by anything ((in my experience that is – I’ve yet to see any insects on them). According to everything I have read, they prefer acidic soil and the same growing conditions as Camellias.

Mostly, I have them in this pinkMostly, I have them in this pink

I added three white ones this yearI added three white ones this year

I have a few in this soft pinkI have a few in this soft pink

… and just one like this

My experience with Azaleas and what they require:

Grow well with: Camellias, Lilies (Asiatic), Carex evergold

They like it: Under tress, amongst lots of other plants, in shade. I’ve read that they need wind protection – that has not been my experience. My Azaleas have survived wind storms better than most plants in my garden, but then they are not massive plants yet.

Time commitment: About an hour or so each a year. I spend a fair amount of time dead heading them and pinch-pruning or dead-heading them as they finish flowering. Some people (books) say it is not necessary, that they will flower again next year anyway, but I’ve tested it – the ones I do do it to, flower earlier and longer and a whole lot more profusely. So it seems worth doing, to me! But it is important to remove the flower stems on as soon as flowering is complete. Failure to do this will reduce flowering the following year. I break off only the dead flower cluster, not the young buds clustered at its base.

On the subject of actual pruning – There is little need for hard pruning azaleas. If growth becomes uneven or even excessive, I control the size with very light pruning and I do it quite regularly. Azaleas sometimes branch poorly and form a loose, open shrub. When this happens, the plants’ shape can be improved by pinching out the soft, new shoots of vigorous growing plants. It makes for a stronger, bushier plants if you do this from time to time.

They get a dressing of compost once or twice a year and are mulched quite well.That is all I do – I told you they are easy plants!

Fertilising: I use a combination of fertiliser in my garden. Every six months or so I apply a 4-5 month slow release version of Osmocote and sporadically, maybe three times a year I use Neutrog’s Bounce Back – both are organic and don’t contain harsh chemicals so there is no danger of fertiliser burn. They seem to thrive on this treatment.

I pinch the spent buds outLovely in my garden

Regular dead-heading = more flowersRegular dead-heading cause more flowers

The shrubs grow quite tallThe shrubs grow quite tall

Every flower is beautiful …Every flower is beautiful ...

Great as: Investment and backbone plants. As evergreen shrubs they will give you years of flowering pleasure, growing each year to fill in a little more space.

Negatives: At a certain time of year they do not look very attractive. My solution to this was growing Asiatic lilies in and amongst the Azaleas in one of the beds. This works well for me. As the Azaleas stop blooming so the Lilies start and seem to hide the “tired” looking foliage for a few weeks. (When the lilies start to decline … well I only have one bed with this combination and admittedly, for about 4 weeks it looks absolutely awful because I let the lilies die back naturally so that they come back the following year. That is four weeks of dyeing lilies and tired looking Azaleas at the end of summer). But in my opinion it is a small price to pay for a garden bed that looks fabulous for the other 48 weeks of the year).

Soil preparation: Azaleas must have soil that is prepared carefully and thoroughly. I find the roots of azaleas are very delicate and do not like to be disturbed (they may not flower for the next season if I “dig around” the roots too much and when I have transplanted them they don’t flower as well for a season. But thereafter they make up for it by growing well and flowering profusely the next Spring. Because the delicate roots of azaleas are easily destroyed, excellent drainage is important.

Mulch: Azaleas are shallow rooted and need heavy mulch to conserve moisture around the roots, to minimize winter injury, and to prevent injury from cultivation.

So that is my (novice) experience with Azaleas. Have I left anything out?