Azalea is a common name for a shrub within the genus Rhododendron. Most azaleas are deciduous plants, losing their leaves in the fall. By comparison, rhododendrons retain their leaves through winter. The leaves of an azalea are smaller than the leaves of a rhododendron. In early spring, deciduous azalea will burst into blooms of white, pink, deep red or yellow. The evergreen variety of azalea also blooms in early spring with colors of white, purple, orange or red.
Low growing varieties of azalea can be used in front of the house for a line of color in the spring followed by an green foliage through late fall. Plant any variety of azaleas near trees to take advantage of the much-needed dappled shade.
Choose a well-drained location with acidic soil and filtered sunlight, or a sunny location with shade starting in early afternoon. A windy location may cause the stem bark to split so shy away from planting at the corner of a building unless there is other vegetation to form a windbreak. Prepare the soil down to a depth of 18 inches and a width of 30 inches to loosen the soil for easier root penetration. Mix in about 25 percent organic matter, like leaf mold, when tilling the soil.
The natural growth pattern of azalea is eye-pleasing so pruning is not needed. If pruning is needed to keep the shrub confined to a specific height, then prune in late spring after the blooms fade so you can enjoy the beauty before cleaning up the shrub. Make the cut just above a whirl of leaves. A whirl consists of several leaves circling a stem.
Azaleas have shallow roots. A thick layer of mulch, pulled away from the trunk of the shrub, will help to retain moisture and protect the roots. Pine needles or shredded leaves can be used as mulch. A fertilizer specifically designed for azaleas and rhododendrons may be applied in the spring.
Cracks in the bark can occur if the azalea is in a windy location, particularly in the winter. Sudden drops in the temperature can also affect the bark. The damaged areas can be pruned back to good wood. Rarely affected by insects, if pests are a bother, an insecticide can be used. Caterpillars may dine on the leaves. The easiest way to get rid of caterpillars is to pull them off the shrub by hand. Rapidly browning blooms can be a sign of fungus that might be controlled with a spray-on fungicide.