Ask a Question forum: I think my Azalea is dying, but don't know why?

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Name: Keith
West Babylon, NY (Zone 7a)
Region: United States of America Winter Sowing Plays in the sandbox Birds Native Plants and Wildflowers Tomato Heads
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keithp2012
Dec 4, 2015 4:07 PM CST
Here's a photo of my Azalea shrub. It's supposed to be evergreen but most branches are bare and all year the leaves have been yellowish green with some reddish brown streaks. The shrub is 40 years old. I don't know if I could plant a new one if I remove it, if the soil is bad quality then I should leave it bare.
Thumb of 2015-12-04/keithp2012/7f8756

Hurst, TX (Zone 8a)
luis_pr
Dec 4, 2015 7:56 PM CST
Azaleas like well mulched, acidic soil with evenly moist soil. Periods of dry soil followed by moist soil and back to dry will cause parts of the plant to suffer and-or dry out. Acidic or hardwood mulch will help conserve soil moisture and is needed especially in the summer months when the azalea's very thin roots in the topmost 4" of the soil can quickly dry out. If that happens for long enough, you end with bare branches or worse, dead branches. You can confirm the status of these branches with your nails. Softly scratch the branches to see the cambium layer and determine if you see green there or not. If you see green, the branch is still alive and it m-a-y leaf out next Spring (not now, it is too late in the growing season for that).

Alkaline soil can make the leaves turn light green or yellowish, with the veins remaining dark green. This is called iron chlorosis: the azalea cannot absorb iron and the leaf colors change. You can add iron sulfate, garden Sulphur or iron-chelated liquids available at most plant nurseries to treat this soil condition.

The plant nurseries also sell a kit that you can use to test the soil for alkalinity but they may be out of stock now. Try one of these in Spring. They are el cheapo things, not accurate but, close enough for govmt work. If one indicates the soil is very alkaline, I would amend the soil, which is something you may have to do with some regularity. For example, I do that always in the Spring and sometimes in the Fall. The liquids resolve the problem faster than the solids but they both take several weeks to correct the problem. The labels will offer suggestions on how much to apply and how often. But I apply once in Spring only. Then again in the Fall if I see leaves yellowing on my camellias, hydrangeas or azaleas.

I do not see mulch in the picture so I would add some, about 3-4" up to the drip line. I am not exactly sure what the streaks on the leaves are/were though. Do you have a picture showing that (a close up of a leaf, say?)?

Luis
[Last edited by luis_pr - Dec 4, 2015 8:08 PM (+)]
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Name: Ken Ramsey
Starkville, MS (Zone 8a)
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drdawg
Dec 5, 2015 8:12 AM CST
Very good information here, Luis. Thumbs up

Luis, please take a moment and go to "Profile". Update your profile showing your location (PR?). That way, every time you post something, we readers will know your location. The location will always show in the upper right-hand corner.
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Name: Sue
Ontario, Canada (Zone 4a)
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sooby
Dec 5, 2015 9:26 AM CST
Keith, can you give more info - you said it is 40 years old but has it been in that same spot for that long, or did you move it (if so, when) or recently buy it in a pot? Has it always had lights on it?
Name: Keith
West Babylon, NY (Zone 7a)
Region: United States of America Winter Sowing Plays in the sandbox Birds Native Plants and Wildflowers Tomato Heads
Vegetable Grower Garden Photography Hybridizer Spiders! Annuals Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge)
keithp2012
Dec 5, 2015 1:43 PM CST
sooby said:Keith, can you give more info - you said it is 40 years old but has it been in that same spot for that long, or did you move it (if so, when) or recently buy it in a pot? Has it always had lights on it?


It's been in the same spot for 40 years. The Christmas lights are only on for 2 weeks out of the year 😅
Name: Keith
West Babylon, NY (Zone 7a)
Region: United States of America Winter Sowing Plays in the sandbox Birds Native Plants and Wildflowers Tomato Heads
Vegetable Grower Garden Photography Hybridizer Spiders! Annuals Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge)
keithp2012
Dec 5, 2015 1:46 PM CST
luis_pr said:Azaleas like well mulched, acidic soil with evenly moist soil. Periods of dry soil followed by moist soil and back to dry will cause parts of the plant to suffer and-or dry out. Acidic or hardwood mulch will help conserve soil moisture and is needed especially in the summer months when the azalea's very thin roots in the topmost 4" of the soil can quickly dry out. If that happens for long enough, you end with bare branches or worse, dead branches. You can confirm the status of these branches with your nails. Softly scratch the branches to see the cambium layer and determine if you see green there or not. If you see green, the branch is still alive and it m-a-y leaf out next Spring (not now, it is too late in the growing season for that).

Alkaline soil can make the leaves turn light green or yellowish, with the veins remaining dark green. This is called iron chlorosis: the azalea cannot absorb iron and the leaf colors change. You can add iron sulfate, garden Sulphur or iron-chelated liquids available at most plant nurseries to treat this soil condition.

The plant nurseries also sell a kit that you can use to test the soil for alkalinity but they may be out of stock now. Try one of these in Spring. They are el cheapo things, not accurate but, close enough for govmt work. If one indicates the soil is very alkaline, I would amend the soil, which is something you may have to do with some regularity. For example, I do that always in the Spring and sometimes in the Fall. The liquids resolve the problem faster than the solids but they both take several weeks to correct the problem. The labels will offer suggestions on how much to apply and how often. But I apply once in Spring only. Then again in the Fall if I see leaves yellowing on my camellias, hydrangeas or azaleas.

I do not see mulch in the picture so I would add some, about 3-4" up to the drip line. I am not exactly sure what the streaks on the leaves are/were though. Do you have a picture showing that (a close up of a leaf, say?)?

Luis


The soil remains very moist there most of the year, perhaps too wet? The branches snap off brown and dry. It might be alkaline issues. I put down bulb fertilizer in summer for my Lilly's and evergreen spikes in fall and spring for evergreen shrubs nearby, perhaps all this ruined the soil quality? I'll try to get better photos.
Name: Sue
Ontario, Canada (Zone 4a)
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sooby
Dec 5, 2015 2:01 PM CST
Assuming it was OK for the first 39 years, can you think of anything that changed in its environment or treatment last year or earlier this year? What about animals peeing on it, could that be a new thing? Last winter was a nasty one in the NE but probably nothing a plant that old hadn't experienced before. Is there anything in this document that resembles what you have seen with it over this year?:

http://cru.cahe.wsu.edu/CEPublications/eb1229/eb1229.pdf

Cross posted with you Keith. Unless the soil pH suddenly changed for some reason I would have expected there to have been some sign of chlorosis before its 40th year.
[Last edited by sooby - Dec 5, 2015 2:03 PM (+)]
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Name: Ken Ramsey
Starkville, MS (Zone 8a)
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drdawg
Dec 5, 2015 2:15 PM CST
How about old age? What's the longevity of azaleas? Another guess that comes to mind, is that there is a mature tree(s) close enough that the tree's roots has literally robbed the azalea of necessary moisture/nutrients for so long that it finally declined.
drdawg (Ken Ramsey) - Tropical Plants & More
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If God wanted me to touch my toes, he would have put them on my knees.
Name: Sue
Ontario, Canada (Zone 4a)
Daylilies Birds Enjoys or suffers cold winters Native Plants and Wildflowers Butterflies Annuals
Region: Canadian Keeps Horses Dog Lover Plant Identifier Garden Sages
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sooby
Dec 5, 2015 2:20 PM CST
Same thought occurred to me Ken, when I checked the Azalea Society of America site they say:

"Azaleas are long lived plants when their requirements are met. There are azaleas in Japan which are hundreds of years old, and may appear more as a small tree than a shrub, with (rarely) trunks 12 inches or more in diameter."


Name: Ken Ramsey
Starkville, MS (Zone 8a)
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]
Orchids Greenhouse Vegetable Grower Ferns Region: United States of America Hummingbirder
Composter Bromeliad Master Gardener: Mississippi Cat Lover Tropicals Plumerias
Image
drdawg
Dec 5, 2015 2:30 PM CST
There are now so many hybrids, Sue. Often, when plants are hybridized, they simply won't have the same longevity as their "parents". Hybridizers probably could not care less about the longevity of their plants. They hybridize generally for two reasons: quick growing and good flowering. That being said, a 40 year old plant probably is not some super-duper hybrid, but who knows.
drdawg (Ken Ramsey) - Tropical Plants & More
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]www.tropicalplantsandmore.com[/url]
If God wanted me to touch my toes, he would have put them on my knees.
Name: Keith
West Babylon, NY (Zone 7a)
Region: United States of America Winter Sowing Plays in the sandbox Birds Native Plants and Wildflowers Tomato Heads
Vegetable Grower Garden Photography Hybridizer Spiders! Annuals Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge)
keithp2012
Dec 5, 2015 4:23 PM CST
sooby said:Assuming it was OK for the first 39 years, can you think of anything that changed in its environment or treatment last year or earlier this year? What about animals peeing on it, could that be a new thing? Last winter was a nasty one in the NE but probably nothing a plant that old hadn't experienced before. Is there anything in this document that resembles what you have seen with it over this year?:

http://cru.cahe.wsu.edu/CEPublications/eb1229/eb1229.pdf

Cross posted with you Keith. Unless the soil pH suddenly changed for some reason I would have expected there to have been some sign of chlorosis before its 40th year.


In the past two years I only started using fertilizer, before then I never put any in that area. There were signs last year of chlorosis in small branches and significant loss of flower buds, but I thought the harsh winter was to blame.
Name: Keith
West Babylon, NY (Zone 7a)
Region: United States of America Winter Sowing Plays in the sandbox Birds Native Plants and Wildflowers Tomato Heads
Vegetable Grower Garden Photography Hybridizer Spiders! Annuals Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge)
keithp2012
Dec 5, 2015 4:24 PM CST
drdawg said:How about old age? What's the longevity of azaleas? Another guess that comes to mind, is that there is a mature tree(s) close enough that the tree's roots has literally robbed the azalea of necessary moisture/nutrients for so long that it finally declined.


There's an evergreen next to it but it's been next to it as long as the azalea existed. It's possible but I'm doubtful that's it.
Name: Keith
West Babylon, NY (Zone 7a)
Region: United States of America Winter Sowing Plays in the sandbox Birds Native Plants and Wildflowers Tomato Heads
Vegetable Grower Garden Photography Hybridizer Spiders! Annuals Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge)
keithp2012
Dec 5, 2015 4:26 PM CST
Here are better photos and it 2 years ago.
Thumb of 2015-12-05/keithp2012/51a472
Thumb of 2015-12-05/keithp2012/a9c059




[Last edited by keithp2012 - Dec 5, 2015 4:28 PM (+)]
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Name: David Laderoute
Zone 5B/6 - NW MO (Zone 5b)
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DavidLMO
Dec 5, 2015 10:53 PM CST
Did it look badly last year? Winter 13/14 was brutal. A plant that old may have had a serious blow as in 1/2 punch. Combined with age, it may have decided to die after some 3rd, unknown punch, did it in..

Chlorosis can make leaves look pretty bad but typically does not on its own cause death of a Rhody or Azalea.

The bulb fertilizer and evergreen spikes should not have done in this plant.

You never answered the question (I don't think) - is it possible there is a dawg (new) in the area that decided to use this as a urinal? The way you describe this and the conditions sounds like what happen from dog urine.

You might spread around some Epsom salts and sulphur, water it in, mulch it, add another couple of inches of leaves and pray for it over winter.

Good luck.
Seeking Feng Shui with my plants since 1976
Name: Keith
West Babylon, NY (Zone 7a)
Region: United States of America Winter Sowing Plays in the sandbox Birds Native Plants and Wildflowers Tomato Heads
Vegetable Grower Garden Photography Hybridizer Spiders! Annuals Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge)
keithp2012
Dec 5, 2015 11:24 PM CST
DavidLMO said:Did it look badly last year? Winter 13/14 was brutal. A plant that old may have had a serious blow as in 1/2 punch. Combined with age, it may have decided to die after some 3rd, unknown punch, did it in..

Chlorosis can make leaves look pretty bad but typically does not on its own cause death of a Rhody or Azalea.

The bulb fertilizer and evergreen spikes should not have done in this plant.

You never answered the question (I don't think) - is it possible there is a dog (new) in the area that decided to use this as a urinal? The way you describe this and the conditions sounds like what happen from dog urine.

You might spread around some Epsom salts and sulphur, water it in, mulch it, add another couple of inches of leaves and pray for it over winter.

Good luck.


No dogs around here, and we dont own one. I'll try some mulch. If it dies im afraid to buy a new azalea and plant it here.
[Last edited by keithp2012 - Dec 5, 2015 11:25 PM (+)]
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Name: David Laderoute
Zone 5B/6 - NW MO (Zone 5b)
Ignoring Zones altogether
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DavidLMO
Dec 5, 2015 11:30 PM CST
I have been growing Azaleas and Rhodendrons for over 30 years. They are sometimes kinda like Daphne - they sometimes up and die for no apparent reason. In the case of Azalea & Rhodys it is usually slower than Daphne and is very disconcerting.

It may have just been the plants time. Sad, I know.
Seeking Feng Shui with my plants since 1976
Name: Sue
Ontario, Canada (Zone 4a)
Daylilies Birds Enjoys or suffers cold winters Native Plants and Wildflowers Butterflies Annuals
Region: Canadian Keeps Horses Dog Lover Plant Identifier Garden Sages
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sooby
Dec 6, 2015 6:22 AM CST
David, I can empathize there, I had a daphne ('Carol Mackie') suddenly up and die this last spring. It had started to leaf out (deciduous here), flowered a little and then croaked.

Keith, if there are no dogs around, what about tom cats, you have cats I think?

Did you apply much fertilizer close to the azalea? Too much fertilizer can kill and azaleas apparently need very little (although deficiencies would need to be addressed).

If that spot is wet, is that a new thing or has it always been? Has something recently impaired the drainage?




Name: David Laderoute
Zone 5B/6 - NW MO (Zone 5b)
Ignoring Zones altogether
Seed Starter Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Level 1
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DavidLMO
Dec 6, 2015 6:48 AM CST
Nice comments Sue - always great to have more input from others. Good points.

OT - Sue - WRT the Carol Mackie Daphne - I lost TWO of them at the same time. Big specimens - TG I only paid 5 $ a piece late last year from Earl May. I healed in the pots over winter. After Mothers Day, planted them. They leafed out beautifully and looked fine for months. Then they started looking bad. Then worse. Then worser. Then kapoot. BTW Zone 4a is really pushing it for Daphne. nodding
Seeking Feng Shui with my plants since 1976
Name: Sue
Ontario, Canada (Zone 4a)
Daylilies Birds Enjoys or suffers cold winters Native Plants and Wildflowers Butterflies Annuals
Region: Canadian Keeps Horses Dog Lover Plant Identifier Garden Sages
Image
sooby
Dec 6, 2015 7:34 AM CST
OT - Ouch, losing one 'Carol Mackie' was bad enough, but two Crying The one here was big too and was planted several years ago. Came through all previous winters just fine. Although we had prolonged cold spells last winter, the temp didn't go any lower than previous winters. No other plants lost, just the daphne. Given that daphnes are fond of doing that sort of thing I knew it might happen eventually, but it had been doing so well.
Pennsylvania (Zone 6b)
Garden Ideas: Level 1
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Cinta
Dec 6, 2015 1:39 PM CST
I agree. I had an Azalea that up and died. It had been in the same spot same treatment for 20 yrs. I thought the moles ate the roots because I had hostas that died that year too.

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