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Azaleas are blooming all over southeastern North Carolina right now.
During these special two to three weeks, it’s easy to see why people are so enthusiastic about them. These plants have few rivals when it comes to making a colorful impact in the landscape.
But, lots of people struggle to grow azaleas well. The secret is really no secret at all. You just have to do a good job of preparing the soil and choose the right location.
If you can’t do that, plant the southern indicas like “Formosa,” “President Clay” or “Mrs. G.G. Gerbing.” They don’t really know they are azaleas. Remember the southern indicas are large plants reaching 10 feet tall and wide.
If you’ve been bitten by the azalea bug, choose a location that receives lots of bright light but is protected from the hottest part of the day during summer.
Stay away from any area where water tends to collect. Add lots of organic material to the soil and rototill to mix these components together.
To keep the azaleas happy, you need a well-drained, homogenous soil. That’s a fancy way of saying that your prepared beds are the same throughout with consistent organic content. Azaleas have root systems that don’t function well unless the conditions are just about perfect.
Planting this time of year is good because you can figure out the color schemes while the blooms are around.
Place your azaleas so the root balls are no deeper than the grade of your prepared soil. Loosen any circling roots with a garden fork or your fingers.
Water thoroughly to settle any air pockets and you should be good to go. If Mother Nature is stingy with rain this year, make sure your new plantings receive adequate water to help them get established.
There are so many different selections of azalea that it can be overwhelming. Here are two I really like.
Encore azaleas are all the rage in the horticultural world for good reason. They bloom for a long time in the fall and give a smaller repeat performance in spring. All of them I have grown are still azaleas, though. They need the perfect position and soil.
My favorite Encore selection is Autumn Empress. It has great pink flowers with dark foliage and doesn’t grow so large. I have it in the foundation planting of the house and it gets better every year.
One of my all-time favorites is a selection that was made at N.C. State back in the 1970’s.
They were breeding for tolerance to the biggest disease problem of azalea—phytophthora root rot. This medium-sized, bright pink flowered selection is called “Carror.” I never get tired of its nearly double blooms.
Keep your azaleas healthy by controlling lace bugs and not getting carried away with fertilizer. If you do the hard work of soil preparation and choosing the right location, you’ll be rewarded with many years of spring color.