Plant azaleas in fall for best success

Allen D. Owings, Young, John, Gill, Daniel J.  |  10/16/2009 6:20:52 PM

By LSU AgCenter Horticulturists Dan Gill, Allen Owings and John Young

Azaleas are the most widely planted shrub in Louisiana, but few gardeners would ever think about planting them in the fall because many of the varieties aren’t blooming in the nurseries for gardeners to compare colors.

Yet, fall is the best time of the year to plant any new trees and shrubs. Temperature and soil conditions are ideal for root growth. These factors give fall plantings a big advantage over spring plantings. Azaleas are no exception. Those planted in fall usually will outperform ones planted in spring.

We offer several recommendations to improve your azalea planting and landscape performance:

– Most azaleas prefer morning sun with afternoon, filtered shade. A minimum of four to six hours of direct sunlight per day is required for good flowering. Take care to prevent exposure to drought or other heat-related stress conditions associated with full-sun exposures. Too much shade, however, can result in skipped or significantly reduced blooming.

– A raised bed is needed for growing azaleas in most areas of Louisiana. Also, make sure you know the pH of the soil in the bed where you plant azaleas. Azaleas prefer a soil pH of 5.5, which is slightly acidic. A soil pH above 6.5 may present problems for azaleas.

– Water azaleas well when you first plant them. Keep soil moist, but avoid creating a constantly wet soil from frequent watering. Monitor watering carefully. New azaleas will die quickly if the soil dries excessively, but they are very susceptible to being overwatered.

– Fertilize with the recommended levels of a slow-release fertilizer in the spring each year. Ironite or other fertilizers with micronutrients may help azaleas stay green. Light fertilization also may be needed in mid- to late summer. Avoid fertilizing in the fall.

– A 2- to 3-inch layer of pine straw is an excellent mulch to help maintain soil moisture and aid in weed suppression.

– Prune azaleas after they flower in the spring. For once-blooming azaleas, prune by late June or early July. For multiseasonal bloomers, prune within two to four weeks following the spring display.

Many azalea varieties are available for Louisiana landscapes. Possibilities include the traditional large-growing Southern Indica varieties. You also can plant multiseasonal-blooming types, such as the popular Encore, Robin Hill and Satsuki varieties.

Come to LaHouse in Baton Rouge to see sustainable landscape practices in action. The home and landscape resource center is located near the intersection of Burbank Drive and Nicholson Drive (Louisiana Highway 30) in Baton Rouge across the street from the LSU baseball stadium. Go online to Louisiana Yards and Neighborhoods for additional information.

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Editor: Mark Claesgens

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