Azaleas-ping Henning?

Hi Stephan and all, I have had problems with my Azaleas every time I try to grow them. They do great, buy them early stay green and healthy, they put out the first flowers for awhile, but once the bloom goes, I wind up losing the whole plant.
I've tried all different things, on say, like 7 plants, planted at the same time and using various amounts of water, placing in various sun and shade and mix, and with or without organic compost, mulch, spraying them with things like RosePride or Azalea specific products. I can never get these things to keep going.<arrrgghhh> So maybe it's the products? I just don't know and don't want to give up, either. I know I can do it, if I get the best product and the best advice. :)
I've been pretty lucky with most of my gardening, actually was a biology major, took quite a bit of botany, many many many many years ago....<g>. But there are certain plants that I just can't get going. I'm going to ask for help with the other two on a seperate thread, so as not to make this too confusing.
I'd appreciate any help, and from what I've read so far, Stephan, you seem to have a good handle on these. (I have never had a problem with Rhododendrons, for instance. They do well, but even with the Azaleas right near them, I still seem to lose them.)
Also, if anyone can point me to a great garden site to purchase a better starting product with these, that woulds be great. I started at home depot, dead within weeks, same with all the other local big stores, at least I got my money back, tho. Then I was buying at smaller nurseries around my various areas I've lived and still no go.
Thanks in advance to everyone!
MaryBeth Southeastern Kansas Bordering on Oklahoma Zone 7 but more into 8
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I can relate to this. Evergreen azaleas take about 3 years to develop their full hardiness. For many evergreen azaleas, that hardiness isn't all that great. The culture is the same for rhododendrons and azaleas. I have a couple words of caution. Miracid and other liquid products are more trouble then help. I would stick with a quality product like Holly-tone. You need low nitrogen, acidic fertilizer. Only fertilize in the spring, and then use about half of what the label recommends.
Here are a few of the basics which you already seem to have a handle on:
Variety: The rhododendron or azalea must be suitable for the climate where it is planted. Some varieties are too tender for harsh winters, too tender for very hot weather, too sensitive to droughts or wet conditions. Select the variety for the location. Different varieties grow different heights. Some are tall, over 6', and some are dwarf, barely 12", and many are in between. Unfortunately, most rhododendrons never stop getting taller, but their height is quoted for plants that are 10 years old and by that time most varieties have slowed down their growth considerably. But if you choose plants that are the right size to begin with, they are relatively maintenance free. The American Rhododendron Society [ www.rhododendron.org ] website has good charts for rhododendrons and azaleas giving the hardiness and height.
Soil Drainage: Moist well-drained soil is a must for most varieties. This sounds difficult, but it means to not let the soil dry out completely but don't get it too wet. Thoroughly water if necessary and then let it dry out.
Acid Soil: Most varieties require an acidic soil (pH 5-6). If your soil is alkaline, you will probably need a raised bed. Powdered sulfur is the best agent to acidify the soil. Holly-tone has this in it. Your plants will get chlorotic if the soil is not acidic enough. Aluminum sulfate is toxic to rhododendrons and azaleas.
Fertilizing: When rhododendrons and azaleas are not planted in ideal locations they may develop chlorosis. Chlorosis is yellowing of a leaf between dark green veins. It is caused by malnutrition that can be caused by a wide variety of conditions. They include alkalinity of the soil, potassium deficiency, calcium deficiency, iron deficiency, magnesium deficiency, nitrogen toxicity (usually caused by nitrate fertilizers) or other conditions that damage the roots such as root rot, severe cutting of the roots, root weevils or root death caused by extreme amounts of fertilizer. In any case, a combination of acidification with sulfur and iron supplements such as chelated iron or iron sulfate will usually treat this problem. Holly-tone contains these elements and 4-6-4 fertilizer. It is best applied in the spring prior to blooming to make sure the plant is healthy when forming next year's flower buds. If you missed applying it in the early spring, it can be applied up until mid summer. Rhododendrons and azaleas do best when left alone in the right conditions. Don't use Holly-tone or any fertilizer unless the plant shows signs of malnutrition.
Shade: Some shade; some varieties like full sun to bloom but others suffer from too much sun. This is a trial and error thing unless you know the variety and can look it up. More sun stimulates flowering and but may trigger lace bug infestations. Prune off lower branches of shade trees so that you have "high shade" above your rhododendrons and azaleas. This is ideal for a healthy rhododendron bed.
Mulching: Rhododendrons do best when they have about a 2" to 3" layer of mulch to hold in moisture, prevent weeds, and keep the roots cool. Since most mulches are organic, they need to be topped off periodically, usually about every year or two. Do not make the mulch over 3" thick. Keep the mulch about 2" to 3" back from the trunk/stem of the plants to avoid bark split and rodent damage. Do not use peat moss as a mulch. It is a soil amendment to be used when preparing the soil in a bed and can cause severe problems when used as a mulch including dehydrating the soil and preventing moisture from reaching the soil. It also tends to blow around. It is best to mulch with a 2-inch layer of an airy organic material such as wood chips, ground bark, pine needles, pine bark or rotted oak leaves. A year-round mulch will also provide natural nutrients and will help keep the soil cool and moist. For specific problems, visit Mulching.
Protection: Protection from winter winds. This is especially true when the ground is frozen. Protect from deer. I use deer netting in the winter and for plants that are susceptible to damage in the summer, such as azaleas, I have a couple beds protected by deer fencing. For specific problems, visit Cold Resistance and Deer Protection.
Cultural Problems: Most problems are cultural. Some tender rhododendron & azalea varieties are not suitable for growing outside green houses. Cultivating rhododendrons and azaleas must be avoided. They have shallow roots and the roots will be severely damaged by cultivating. Weed killer from weed & feed products is a definite problem also. Salt from sidewalks in the winter is a killer to azaleas. Soil near masonry such as foundations and walks is usually alkaline (not acidic) and a problem. Lawn fertilizer in the fall can set an azalea way back. Another problem is the roots of walnut trees. They emit a chemical that is toxic to rhododendrons, azaleas and many other kinds of plants. For specific problems, visit my website below.
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