Azaleas are large shrubs that offer beauty throughout the seasons for the patient gardener. Glossy green masses of leaves adorn the summer and fall shrub, while the spring brings a glory of papery, ruffled blooms in a host of bright Easter egg colors. Planting and cultivation of the tender azalea takes preparation and consistent maintenance, but this garden favorite will reward you for your efforts with years of showy brilliance.
Choose a site specific to the requirements of the mature azalea. Avoid areas with direct, harsh sun or wind exposure. Dappled light is preferable to complete shade or full sun in the afternoon. Do not plant azalea in areas where shallow, deciduous tree roots will compete for nutrients and space, as it's delicate root systems will suffer.
Plant azaleas in fall or early spring during their dormant phase. The cool temperatures and moist soil typically found in these milder months are the ideal conditions for planting success.
Prepare the soil by cultivating a bed to 18 inches deep and 30 inches wide. Amend with organic matter, a mix of decomposed pine bark or leaves, to provide nutrients over a long period of time. An acidic soil pH range of 5.0 to 5.5 is suggested for optimum results. Soil test kits can be purchased from gardening supply stores. Local university extension offices are also resources for for a soil tests and amendment recommendations.
Plant azaleas 3 to 4 feet apart. Improve drainage by raising the bed one foot above the soil level, if necessary. Avoid planting closer than 18 inches to the edge of the prepared soil to ensure prime root development.
Apply a heavy layer of organic mulch over the top soil at a depth of up to 3 inches, spread across the bedding area. Avoid mulch contact with the shrub base stem as moisture build-up can occur, encouraging rot.
Water newly planted azaleas well. Monitor moisture levels by feeling the soil under the mulch twice a week. If the first few inches of soil are dry to the touch, water to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. Always water at the base of the shrub as overhead watering encourages foliage disease. Avoid overwatering, however, as root rot is a concern with azalea species.