Answer: Azaleas -- like any plant -- take several years to become rooted and established before they will grow their best. Azaleas are relatively slow growing plants so you would not expect to see fast growth in any case.
Azaleas do well in partial shade, meaning bright dappled light all day or in morning-only sun. In the intense afternoon sun they tend to overheat and suffer stress as a result. If yours are in afternoon-only sun, you might want to transplant them.
The best care is to provide them with evenly moist yet well drained soil meaning damp like a wrung out sponge, not sopping wet and not dried out. Using an organic mulch year round will help keep the soil more evenly moist and also help feed the soil slowly as it breaks down over time. The mulch should be in a flat layer two to three inches thick year round, spread evenly over the root area. (A gravel mulch will help shade the ground to keep the soil moist, but it also tends to overheat and does not help feed the soil.)
Azaleas are not heavy feeders. An annual top dressing with compost along with the organic mulch goes a long way toward keeping them healthy. You could also use a slow release granular fertilizer for acid loving plants such as Hollytone. Read and follow the label directions for how much to use.
Azaleas rarely need pruning, however you can remove dead or damaged branches as soon as they happen. If you need to prune to shape or control size, do so immediately after they bloom in the spring. It is better to selectively remove individual branches rather than shear them all over. All over trimming ruins the graceful, natural shape of the shrubs.
If your plants look poorly and are defoliating, they may have suffered stress due to the oscillating spring temperatures this year, or they may have a pest or disease problem. I would suggest you consult with your local county extension to obtain a specific diagnosis of the problem and based on knowing that, decide how to proceed. Good luck with your azaleas!
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