The Q&A Archives: Need advice on Azalea care

Question: Having problems with my Hino and Coral Bell azaleas. The Coral Bells did not bloom this year, but the Hino were beautiful. Both now are having browning/crisping of the leaves. Some of the lower branches will break off and appear to be dead. Is this simply them drying out and not enough water? It has been very hot here lately, but I have watered some. How much is too much watering? Do I need to create artificial shade for them. The ones in almost total shade look better. I have been told not to water too much from some and to water more by others. Also, I have some Southern Indica that the leaves all look great, but they have not bloomed at all the last two years. Just need some good advice. Thanks!

Answer: Based on your description I am not certain what is happening to your azaleas, so here is a review of azalea planting and care to help you trouble shoot. These plants do best in morning only sun or dappled light all day.

The soil for azaleas should be organic and humusy, evenly moist yet well drained. This means damp like a wrung out sponge, not sopping wet and never dried out. These are shallow rooted plants, so watering can be critical in mid to late summer. In hot weather you may need to water every five days or so if there is no rain. 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 slowly and thoroughly so it soaks down to the deepest roots. Avoid wetting the leaves when you water. After watering, wait a few hours and then dig down to see how far it went; it can be surprising.

They should have two inches of organic acidic mulch such as pine bark over the entire root area year round, apply it in a flat layer and refluff or refresh as needed. (Do not allow it to touch the stem of the plant.) This helps keep the soil cool and moist in summer.

Azaleas are not heavy feeders, but may appreciate anuual spring applications of a slow release fertilizer for acid loving plants such as Hollytone per the label directions. A topdressing of good quality compost can also be beneficial. The organic mulch also helps feed the soil slowly over time as it breaks down slowly over time.

Loss of leaves can indicate too much shade or too much sun, over or underwatering, overfertilizing, or a pest such as lacebug or disease problem such as mildew, or accidental herbicide contact, or even a dog has lifted its leg repeatedly. It can also indicate that they were planted too deeply. As you may have guessed, it is difficult to diagnose this symptome long distance. I would suggest you review the above growing suggestions and at least consider providing extra shade, or possibly transplanting very early next spring.

Also, you may want to consult with your local county extension. They may appreciate a photo of the overall planting, the individual plant, and a closeup of the affected branches and foliage. Possibly also a few leafy twig samples freshly cut and kept cool, and sealed in a closed plastic bag.

Finally, according to your zip code, you are in zone 7A. This is probably too cold for the Indicas to bloom reliably for you. Planting them in a very sheltered location with protection from winter wind would possibly help, along with winters on the warm side of average. Other causes for lack of bloom include stress as well as pruning at the wrong time. These bloom on old wood from the year before, so the only good time to prune is late spring/early summer right after they bloom.

Good luck with your azaleas. I hope this helps you truble shoot.

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