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Plant of the Week: Azaleas

Rhododendron spp.

Plant of the Week: Azaleas

We adore our Southern gardens and as spring approaches each year, I can’t wait to see the emerging blooms of our local Azaleas! With a spectrum of colors to choose from as well as sizes, you can easily find an Azalea to suit your needs. Here are a few things you need to know to grow them well here in Louisiana.

Characteristics:

  • Dimension: 2-8 feet tall and 2-8 feet wide, depending on cultivar
  • Growth Habit: Medium to fat growth habit, upright woody shrub
  • Foliage: Green or purple leaves, can be small or large depending on cultivar. Some cultivars will show fall color such as "Fashion" Azalea. Evergreen
  • Blooms: Blooms will appear in Spring as well as Fall on many cultivars. Encore Azaleas are re-blooming Azaleas that will bloom several times a year, for instance. Colors can include reds, pinks, white, purples, and oranges. Blooms will vary in size but generally speaking, larger cultivars have larger blooms.
  • Hardiness: Tolerant of heat and cold, but should be covered in freezing temperatures.
  • Toxicity: Nontoxic to people and pets

Care Requirements:

  • Light: full sun to par sun (4-8 hours of sun). Most enjoy morning sun and afternoon relief from heat stress
  • Water: water regularly upon planting, backing off water in the winter months as evaporation rates decrease. Once established, let nature take over.
  • Soil: prefers acidic soil with a pH of 4.5-6.5 that is well-drained. Will not tolerate areas with standing water as this will rot the root system, but will tolerate damp areas around ponds, for instance.
  • Fertilizer: fertilize 2-3 times per year (spring, fall, and early Summer) with soil acidifying fertilizers like Camellia, Azalea, and Rhododendron Food. You can also acidify the soil using granular iron such as Iron Plus so as not to force growth or blooming when not necessary.
  • Pruning: prune Azaleas after the bloom cycle has finished. Your "cut off" time during the growing season (spring to summer) is August or early September on pruning. If you prune past this time, you risk losing the buds developing at the tips.

Uses:

  • Larger cultivars like George Tabor, Formosa, and G.G. Gerbing are often used as screen hedges (6-8 feet)
  • Smaller cultivars like Christmas Cheer, Gumpo, and Conversation Piece can be used as accents in the garden and even as focal points in potted displays (2-3 feet)
  • Medium cultivars like Red Ruffle, Fashion, and several of the Encore series Azaleas are commonly used as blooming hedgerows and backdrops for annuals.

Azaleas are staple in Southern gardens. They add informal structure to the garden and, when in bloom, add vibrant color and fragrance each spring. With a little care and sunshine, you can add Azaleas to your garden to complete that Southern charm we all love here in Louisiana.

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