The Q&A Archives: Mandarin Lights Azalea

Question: What are some attractive companion plants to Mandarin Lights Azaleas? I am using these azaleas as a background in the planting area (around the front porch), but would like some type of evergreen staggered in front for year-round color. Additionally, how often should I water these azaleas in the first growing season?

Answer: There is no set schedule on watering. It depends on your soil and on the weather. Azaleas need an evenly moist yet well drained soil, meaning damp like a wrung out sponge and never soggy. You would use a year round organic mulch such as pine bark about two to three inches thick over the root area (do not pile it deeper and do not allow it to touch the stem) to help keep the soil moisture level steady.

To know if you need to water, dig into the soil with your finger. If it is still damp, do not water yet. When you do water, water very slowly and thoroughly so it soaks down in. After watering, wait a few hours and then dig down to see how far the water went; sometimes it can be surprising. Azalea roots are usually in the top six inches of soil, so make sure your watering soaks in at least that far. When the weather is cool and damp you will water less often (if at all) than when it is hot or windy.

Your choice of evergreen depends somewhat on where you have these azaleas planted, but in morning sun you might try some of the low growing dwarf conifers that also like evenly moist but well drained, acidic, organic soil -- but check their mature sizes as some of these actually grow quite large in time. You might also consider a low clipped hedge of Japanese holly, or possibly a planting of Himalyan sarcococca (Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis).

I should mention that azaleas will not tolerate root disturbance and do better with minimal root competition, so you might also consider using a groundcover -- perhaps the evergreen Christmas fern or the traditional periwinkle (Vinca minor) instead of mixed plantings.

And, this group of azaleas tends to mildew under certain conditions, so you will want to optimize air circulation around it if possible.

Your local professional nursery staff should be able to make suggestions as well -- they can be more specific if they have more detailed information about the planting site and your overall design goals.

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