Everyone has their favorite spring flowers. For some, it is the daffodil that pops up signaling the start of spring. For others, it is the tulip that is in the background of so many Easter photos, but for me, it has always been the azalea, with one exception. If I’m in the Smoky Mountains, then there’s nothing better than the rhododendron. Technically, azaleas and rhododendrons are evergreen shrubs, but the burst of colorful blooms they provide every spring makes them a special sight to behold. I especially love the older and more mature varieties that can be found in the wild.
I didn’t know until I began researching for this article that azaleas are classified as a rhododendron. According to The American Rhododendron Society, “all azaleas are rhododendron, but not all rhododendron are azaleas.” Because of that, the care for both plants is the same.
- Azaleas prefer a more acidic soil to perform well.
This can be accomplished by mixing in peat moss, pecan shells, or a combination of the two at the base of the plant. Keeping the pH low will help prevent the leaves from turning yellow and the plant from looking sick.
- Be sure to fertilize azaleas after the blooms fall off.
We recommend a balanced fertilizer like the 18-10-10 that we use in our Azalea Program. In addition to the slow-release and organic fertilizers, we include granular sulfur in this enhancement service to help lower the pH which keeps the plant looking healthy. We also include a systemic insecticide to help with the control of aphids and lace bugs.
One common mistake to avoid is fertilizing azaleas too late in the season. Fertilizer applications in the fall will actually push the blooms out too early, stealing the potential for the flowers to bloom the following spring. You can confidently fertilize as soon as the blooms are spent, but we don’t recommend acting later than July 1st.
- Pruning is also vitally important.
Make sure you prune rhododendrons (and azaleas) as soon as the blooms are gone. New buds for next spring start forming as early as July, so if you wait too late to give your azaleas a trim, you risk cutting off all of its potential blooms for next season.
Hand trimming generally provides better results and keeps azaleas looking more natural. Some homeowners try to shape azaleas like boxwoods, but in doing so, inadvertently limit the number of blooms the plant can produce. Azaleas and rhododendrons are naturally a little gangly in appearance, and hand-pruning individual branches helps to maintain that natural look.
Rhododendrons can be a little extra work, but when your property is the envy of the neighborhood next spring, you’ll be glad you invested into preparing them accordingly.
For more information on how to care for your azaleas, to inquire about our tree and shrub enhancement service, or to request help from the experts at LawnAmerica, give us a call at 704-931-4050 or 828-684-1300.