How To Plant, Fertilize, Prune & Water Native Azalea Rhododendrons (2022)

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Posted by Brent Wilson on 8/18/2016 to

Native Azaleas are very easy to grow and care for. When it comes to success with growing the beautiful deciduous Rhododendrons, a little good advice goes a long way.

I hope this article provides the helpful advice you need to plant and grow native azaleas like pros.

Here's a breakdown of what you need to know...

Cultural Preferences

Soil

In The Ground

Native Azaleas are adaptable to many soil types but prefer a moist, well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. Though some species and varieties are tolerant of boggy soils, as with so many other ornamental plants constantly soggy or wet soil can be problematic for other varieties. So make sure to know the specific soil moisture needs for the Native Azalea variety you intend on planting.

How To Test Soil Drainage

If you are uncertain about soil drainage in the area you intend to plant your Native Azalea, it's well worth taking the time to test the drainage before planting.

To test soil drainage, dig a hole 12" wide by 12" deep in the planting area. Fill the hole with water and let it drain. Then, after it drains, fill it with water again, but this time clock how long it takes to drain. In well-drained soil the water level will go down at a rate of about 1 inch an hour. A faster rate, such as in loose, sandy soil, may signal potentially dry site conditions and a need to add some moisture retentive organic matter. A slower rate indicates poor draining soil and is a caution you need to improve drainage, plant in a raised mound or bed, or look forplants that are more tolerant of wet or boggy conditions.

In Containers

Most species of Native Azaleas are excellent candidates for growing in pots, planters and other containers. When growing in pots they appreciate a moist but well-drained soil. Constantly soggy soil can and often will cause root rot or other harmful or deadly plant diseases. Therefore, choose a pot with a drainage hole(s) and use a good potting soil or potting mix, or a 50/50 mix thereof for planting. You can add about 10 to 20 percent perlite or pumice to the soil mixture to help with drainage. Avoid the use of native soil dug from the ground.

Soil pH

Native Azaleas grow best in an acid to slightly acidic soil ranging between 4.5 to 6.5 on the pH scale. Most average garden soils fall between a pH range of 6.0 to 7.0.

Testing Soil pH

Soil pH is a measurement of the alkalinity or acidity of soil and is measured on a scale of 1-14, with 7 as the neutral mark. Any measurement below 7 indicates acid soil conditions, and anything above 7 indicates alkaline. If you're unsure about the pH of your soil, or whether or not it's suitable for growing Native Azaleas, it's a good idea to test the soil pH in the planting area.

You can quickly test soil pH with an inexpensive soil pH tester probe. To raise the pH (make more alkaline) you can add pelletized limestone to the soil. To lower the pH (make more acid) you can apply Soil Sulfur, Aluminum Sulfate, or Chelated Iron. Adding organic compost to the soil or using compost as mulch can also help to increase acidity and maintain acid soil conditions.

Learn More:What is Soil pH and How To Adjust It?

Light Needs

Native azaleas prefer life on the shady side. In their native habitats you'll find them growing in or on the edges of woodland areas. Shelter from direct afternoon sun is recommended. Morning or all-day heavily filtered sun or all-day dappled shade is fine.

(Video) How to Prune and Fertilize your Azaleas

How To Plant A Native Azalea

Scroll down for container planting instructions and care tips

Step 1

Start by digging your planting hole at least two to three times as wide and not much deeper than the root ball. The wider the hole the better. Place native soil removed from planting hole around the perimeter of the hole, in a wheel barrow, or on a tarp.

Step 2

Depending on the type, fertility and porosity of the soil in the planting area you might need to amend the native soil. When planting a native azalea in heavy clay, or other compacted or poor soils, it is beneficial to thoroughly mix in some good organic matter such as composted cow manure, mushroom compost, and/or a good planting mix at a 50/50 ratio with the native soil removed from the planting hole. When planting in very sandy, quick-draining soil you might want to consider mixing in some top soil, peat moss and/or compost to help retain moisture. When planting in fertile, moist but well-drained soil there is no need for adding a soil amendment, though some composted organic matter might be beneficial.

Step 3

To remove your native azalea from the nursery pot it was growing in, firmly grasp the base of the plant and very gently try to lift and remove it from the pot. If the root ball is stuck in the pot use snips to cut the container away. After having removed the plant from the container, loosen some feeder roots around the just the surface of the root ball. If root bound, you can spray the sides and bottom of the root ball with a stream of water from a garden hose. This will help to wash away some soil from the exterior of the root ball making it easier to loosen roots.

Step 4

If you are planting in well-drained soil set your native azalea in the planting hole so that the top edge of the root ball is at or slightly above ground level, to allow for settling. If your soil is moderately drained (drains at less than 1-inch per hour) the top of the root ball should sit 2 to 4 inches above ground level, as shown in the planting diagram below. If necessary, add some backfill soil mixture to the bottom of the planting hole to achieve proper planting height.

(Video) Planting Rhododendrons & Azaleas The RIGHT WAY!

Note: If the soil is poorly drained (constantly soggy or wet) either improve soil drainage in the planting area or choose a different plant species more tolerant of wet soils.

How To Plant, Fertilize, Prune & Water Native Azalea Rhododendrons (3)

Step 5

After setting your native azalea in the planting hole, use one hand to hold the plant straight and your other hand to begin pulling your soil mixture around the root ball, tamping as you go to remove air pockets. When you have filled the hole to the halfway point you can soak the soil. Then continue back-filling to the top edge of the root ball. If you are planting higher than ground level taper your soil mixture gradually from the top edge of the root ball to the ground level, as shown in the planting diagram above. To avoid suffocating your plant, avoid placingany soil on top of the root ball.

Step 6 (Optional)

When planting your native azalea in a location far from a water source, and in well-drained soil, you can use remaining soil mixture to build a water retaining berm (catch basin/doughnut) about 2 to 3 inches high around the outside perimeter of the planting hole. This basin will help to collect water from rainfall and irrigation reducing the need for hand-watering. The berm can be removed after a growing season or two.

Step 7

Next, deeply water the planting area, including the root ball, to a depth equal to the height of the root ball. For an extra boost, to reduce plant shock and promote greener, more vigorous plants by stimulating early root formation and stronger root development, you can also water you newly planted native azalea with a solution of Root Stimulator.

Step 8

Spread a 1- to 2-inch layer of shredded or chipped wood mulch or a 3- to 4-inch layer of pine straw around the planting area to conserve moisture and suppress weed growth. As the mulch decomposes it will add vital nutrients to the soil that your native azalea will appreciate. Avoid the use of freshly chipped or shredded wood for mulch until it has cured in a pile for at least 6 months, a year is better. Avoid placing or piling mulch directly against the base of your plant as this could cause the bark to rot.

Planting ANative Azalea In A Pot

Native azaleas growing in pots appreciate a moist but well-drained soil. Constantly soggy soil can and often will cause root rot or other harmful or deadly plant diseases. Therefore, choose a pot with a drainage hole(s) and use a good potting soil, or potting mix, or a 50/50 mix thereof. Avoid the use of native soil dug from the ground. You can add about 10 to 20 percent perlite or pumice to the soil mixture to help with drainage.

Also make sure to choose a container that is large enough to allow for 2 to 3 years of growth before having to shift up to a larger size container. This might mean your planting pot would be 6 to 8 inches or more in diameter(width) than the root ball of your plant.

Container color will matter as well.Not only will you want to select a color of container that goes well with the flower and foliage color of your native azalea, you'll also want a container that matches the style of your home or other structures or plants in the surrounding environment.

Many nursery & garden centers offer a wide variety of containers to choose from. Before heading out to buy a container take pictures of your home and the surrounding environment. Doing so will help you to choose just the right color and style.

Container Planting Instructions

Step 1

Before filling your container with the soil mix, we recommend lining the bottom with shade cloth or a porous landscape fabric such as weed barrier. This will keep the drain holes from becoming stopped up with soil. If you place gravel, stones or other materials in the bottom of your pot lay the fabric on top of it.

Step 2

To remove your native azalea from the nursery pot it was growing in, firmly grasp the base of the plant andvery gentlytry to lift and remove it from the pot. If the root ball is stuck in the pot use snips to cut the container away. After having removed the plant from the container, loosen some feeder roots around just the surface of the root ball. If root bound, you can spray the sides and bottom of the root ball with a stream of water from a garden hose. This will help to wash away some soil from the exterior of the root ball making it easier to loosen roots.

Step 3

Pour a small amount of your soil mixture in the bottom of the container. Set your plant in the container and make necessary adjustments by adding or removing some soil so that the top edge of the root ball will sit 1/2 to 1" below the rim of the container.

How To Plant, Fertilize, Prune & Water Native Azalea Rhododendrons (4)

Step 4

Begin filling the container with your potting soil, tamping as you go, until the level of potting soil is even with the top edge of root ball.

(Video) How Do I Fertilize Rhododendrons? : More Gardening Advice

Step 5

Water thoroughly until water starts to drain from the holes in the bottom of the container. Add more potting mix if settling occurs during watering.

Step 6 (Optional)

Apply a 1/2" layer of wood chips or sphagnum moss to soil surface to help conserve moisture.

How To Care forNative Azaleas

How To Fertilize A Native Azaleas

In the ground...

Native azaleas will benefit from fertilization. I feed mine after they bloom in spring with an acid-forming fertilizer such as azalea, camellia & rhododendron food or a slow-release shrub & tree food, preferably one that contains Sulfur and/or Iron. Alternatively, you can feed with a natural organic plant food. To avoid stimulating new growth that could be damaged by an early frost, cease fertilization after August.

In containers...

Feed native azaleas growing in pots as directed on the product label with a slow-release granular fertilizer or water-soluble liquid feed. Make sure that the fertilizer you choose is listed for use in containers.

Soil pH

Native azaleas grow best in an acid to slightly acid soil ranging between 4.5 to 6.5 on the pH scale. Most average garden soils fall between a pH range of 6.0 to 7.0.

Learn More:

How To WaterNative Azaleas

Native azaleas prefer a moist but well-drained soil. Established plants are quite drought tolerant. As with so many other ornamental plants, constantly soggy or wet soil can be problematic. So make sure not to over-water your native azaleas!

At Planting Time

Immediately after planting deep soak the soil in the planting area, including the root ball, to a depth equal to the height of the root ball. For an extra boost, you can water your newly planted native azalea with a solution of Root Stimulator, which stimulates early root formation and stronger root development, thereby reducing plant shock and promoting greener, more vigorous plants

During the First Active Growth Season

In average garden soil you should not have to water your newly planted native azaleas every day. More often than not, this causes constantly soggy soil conditions that can lead to root rot and other plant diseases. In the absence of sufficient rainfall, water only as needed to keep the root ball and surrounding soil damp to moist. Keep in mind that deep soaking less frequently and allowing the soil to dry out somewhat before watering again is much better than splashing just a little water on the plants every day.

Note: When planted during the winter dormant season, when native azaleas are not actively growing and evaporation is much slower, plants not require as much water. So, be extra careful not to overwater during winter!

(Video) How to Grow Native Azalea (Rhododendron spp)

Thereafter

When established, native azaleas are quite drought tolerant. That said, wilting new leaves or new green stems bending over during a dry period are indicators that your plant might need a good deep soaking. Always check soil moisture before watering.

Note: When watering with an automated irrigation system it's best to set your timer to water during the early morning hours and not in the late evening or at night, which can lead to the onset of fungus and other foliage diseases. During the first few weeks after planting, check soil moisture often and adjust irrigation time if necessary to keep the soil moist, not wet.

How To PruneNative Azaleas

Native azaleas are deciduous woodland shrubs or small trees admired for their natural form and beauty. Therefore, I generally recommend very little if any pruning. Native azaleas should not be pruned as heavily as your evergreen azaleas. They do not recover as quickly and you could stunt your plant. That said, native azaleas can be pruned to control size or to form a small tree.

When to Prune

Most important, don't forget that the spring blooms on native azaleas came from buds that formed the previous summer. Therefore, avoid pruning during summer, fall or winter. That said, selective pruning to remove a stray or damaged branch that is spoiling the shape of the plant can be done any time of year. Any significant pruning to control size, or to remove lower branches for tree forming, should be done in late winter, while the plant is dormant, or immediately following the spring bloom cycle.

How to Prune

After Spring Bloom

Whenpruning a native azalea immediately after it has bloomed use a sharp pair of bypass hand pruners to remove any damaged or dead branches. At this time, I usually only cut back the longer live branches that are spoiling the look and shape of the plant. Make cuts at a point 6 to 12 inches beyond the main form of the plant. If you want your native azalea to have a natural form and look make your pruning cuts at different heights. Established plants that have outgrown the space they were intended to fill can be cut back by up to a third of their height to control size and form a more dense plant.

Pruning For Tree Form

How To Plant, Fertilize, Prune & Water Native Azalea Rhododendrons (5)

Taller growing native azaleas (6' or more in height) can be pruned to form a very attractive small tree. Tree-forming may also help to rejuvenate older native azaleas. The goal in tree-forming is to form a nice canopy of branches and foliage on top of what is usually one to several exposed lower trunks.

This type of pruning should be done in late winter or immediately following bloom in early spring.

When tree-forming a native azalea you'll be removing lower branches. However, before removing any branches, study the plant and try to visualize the end result after pruning.

I usually don't recommend removing main trunks. However, sometimes doing so is necessary to achieve balance and the look you want. If you intend to remove a trunk(s) it will need to be cut off as close to the ground or base of the plant as possible.

Note: Before removing any main trunks make sure that doing so will not spoil the shape of the canopy.

After you've selected and removed any unwanted trunks, you can begin removing lower branches that stem from the trunk(s). Start by removing lateral branches growing from the trunk(s) that are lowest to the ground. When removing a branch, make your cut as close to the trunk as possible but without cutting into the bark of the trunk. After each cut, take a step back to take a look at the tree. Continue removing lower branches upward to a desired height that is satisfying in appearance.

Note:The use of pruning sealer is not necessary though you may use it if you want.

Plant Long & Prosper!

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(Video) Rhododendron || Everything You Need to Know || what is an azaleas, care, pruning, deadheading, soil

FAQs

What is the best fertilizer for azaleas and rhododendrons? ›

We suggest using Fertilome Azalea, Rhododendron, Camellia Food which should to be applied every 4-6 weeks during the growing season between flowering in spring and bud set in early fall. Liquid fertilizers can be applied as a supplement, but we highly suggest a slow release granular-based fertilizer for outdoor shrubs.

What is the best time to fertilize rhododendrons? ›

Rhododendrons and azaleas prefer slightly acid soils. Fertilizer is best applied soon after flowering in the spring. Organic fertilizers are a bit more costly, but are released slowly and need to be applied less frequently than chemical fertilizers.

Do you fertilize azaleas before or after they bloom? ›

The best time to fertilize is right after spring bloom. This spring application may be all you need, but if you live in an area with a lot of rainfall and a long growing season, you may want to make a second application in mid to late summer, making sure not to fertilize after August 1st.

What fertilizer is best for rhododendron? ›

You'll want to use a particular fertilizer composition for the different stages of your rhododendron growth. At planting time, use 10-10-6 fertilizer before you water the plant in. In early spring, the rhododendron buds swell. At this time, apply a complete 10-8-6 fertilizer.

Is Miracle Grow good for azaleas? ›

Help acid-loving plants like azalea, camellia, gardenia, hibiscus, holly, hydrangea, orchids, rhododendron, and many others thrive with Miracle-Gro® Water Soluble Azalea, Camellia, Rhododendron Plant food.

Can you use Miracle Grow on rhododendrons? ›

Miracle-Gro Water Soluble Azalea, Camellia, Rhododendron Plant Food is a special plant food designed for acid-loving plants like azaleas, rhododendrons, camellias, dogwoods, magnolias, gardenias, orchids and all evergreens. It is rich in iron and other essential nutrients.

What is the best fertilizer for azaleas? ›

If you prefer to give your plants an extra boost, and add fertilizer to your azaleas, we recommend getting one that is acidic and designed for Azaleas & rhododendrons specifically. If you do not have any azalea fertilizer available, a well balanced slow-release 10-10-10 fertilizer always works.

Can you over fertilize rhododendrons? ›

Be careful to use only the amounts recommended for rhododendrons and azaleas, which do not need as much fertilizer as other plants. Excessive fertilization can result in damaged roots and leaves, and some rhododendron varieties can be killed with fertilizer.

Can I fertilize rhododendrons in winter? ›

Take care when applying nitrogen fertilizer. If you live in a cold climate, don't add nitrogen after early summer since it can produce lush, new growth easily damaged in winter. Apply only what you need and no more, since excess fertilizer burns a plant's roots.

When should azaleas be pruned and fertilized? ›

How to Prune and Fertilize your Azaleas - YouTube

Are used coffee grounds good for azaleas? ›

Feed Your Acid-Loving Plants

Place coffee grounds around the soil of your acid-loving plants such as azaleas, hydrangeas, lilies, roses, rhododendrons, holly, gardenias and many others. Coffee grounds increase acidity and nutrients in the soil. This is our favorite reason to use coffee grounds in your garden.

Can azaleas be fertilized in the winter? ›

The colder your climate the more important it is to stop fertilizing azaleas too late in the season. What is this? Do not fertilize azaleas during the Fall or winter as either nutrients will not be absorbed or it will promote growth when the plant should be preparing for a state of dormancy.

Is Epsom salt good for azaleas? ›

Shrubs, including azaleas and rhododendrons, can benefit from an Epsom salt feed once a month, while trees can be treated with Epsom salts around three times each year.

Is Epsom salts good for rhododendrons? ›

Magnesium in the form of Epsom salts is sometimes recommended for rhododendrons. Magnesium is an essential element and lack of it will cause yellowish areas between the leaf veins on older leaves.

Are used coffee grounds good for rhododendrons? ›

Lower Soil pH

It's always a good idea to add coffee grounds to compost, but mixing it directly into the soil can help balance alkaline soil or give a boost of acidity for plants that prefer a lower pH, like hydrangeas or rhododendrons.

What is the best fertilizer to use for azaleas? ›

If you prefer to give your plants an extra boost, and add fertilizer to your azaleas, we recommend getting one that is acidic and designed for Azaleas & rhododendrons specifically. If you do not have any azalea fertilizer available, a well balanced slow-release 10-10-10 fertilizer always works.

What kind of fertilizer do you put on azaleas? ›

The best way to fertilize your azaleas is with a specialised fertilizer such as Miracle-Gro Azalea, Continuous Release Plant Food (which comes in granular form) as it contains the right balance of nutrients that azaleas need at the optimal concentration. Application of granular plant food is very easy.

What is the best time to fertilize azaleas? ›

The best time to fertilize your azaleas is in spring, either during or just after their bloom. It's best to avoid fertilizing them at the very beginning. Wait until the shrub has formed several flowers, rather than adding fertilizer at the first sign of buds opening.

What is the best food for azaleas? ›

Fertilizing. Azaleas have low nutritional requirements compared to other shrubs. A soil amended with organic matter prior to planting followed by a mulch of compost, shredded leaves, pine straw or other organic material will usually provide sufficient nutrients for adequate growth.

Videos

1. Azalea Care in Pots ( My Most watched Video) Azalea tips : potting mix : fertilizing : pruning care
(Home Gardening, Made Easy !!)
2. Native Azalea Talk: Tips, Tricks, Propagation, and Maintenance
(Graham County Travel)
3. How to grow Rhododendrons | Grow at Home | Royal Horticultural Society
(RHS - Royal Horticultural Society)
4. Rhododendron and Azalea Care Tips
(Bob's Market & Greenhouses Inc)
5. Native Azaleas | Volunteer Gardener
(Volunteer Gardener)
6. How to Fertilize Encore® Azaleas - Acid Loving Plants
(HortTube with Jim Putnam)

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