The Q&A Archives: Nuccio Bright Red Azaleas Turning Reddish-brown

Question: I have adobe soil that has grown azaleas for 40 years. Recently, I planted 7 Bright Red (Cardinal) azaleas direct from Nuccios. They all have had the same watering and fertilizers. Two are getting reddish-brown leaves and one is getting yellowish leaves. All bloomed in the spring and again in the fall. I am looking for some sort of soil problem, fungus, or insect that could be doing this. Would a picture help?

Answer: Rather than insect or disease problems, I suspect there are two or three cultural problems at work here. Newly transplanted trees and shrubs often go through a period of adjustment before their roots become firmly established in the soil. Yellowing or dropping of foliage are usual reactions to recent transplanting, as is general failure to thrive. The poor performance of your new plants indicates they're going through a stressful adjustment. Since you're a veteran azalea grower, you know that the plants prefer soil on the acidic side. Soil that's too alkaline will bind up nutrients and make them less available to plant roots. Finally, reddish-brown leaves can indicate cold-weather damage, or lack of micronutrients (perhaps from overly alkaline soils). Plants slow their growth rate during the winter months so you won't see much improvement over the next few months, but you can certainly help the roots of your azaleas become established by watering deeply once each week (unless rainfall is abundant), and mulching over the soil surface with an acidic organic mulch such as peat moss. As the peat moss breaks down it will provide nutrients to the roots of your azaleas. When new growth begins in the spring, fertilize your plants with an acid-based fertilizer (applying according to label directions). Even though your azaleas are considered evergreen, expect some of the older leaves to drop, especially the damaged leaves. When older leaves fall, they make room for healthy new foliage. Give your new plants a few months to become established and they should grow well for you!

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