DALY: Azaleas color the spring landscape

Azaleas are one of the most popular ornamental plants. They come in a multitude of colors, shapes, and growing habits. Azaleas can grow in a wide range of soils and climates. Many are evergreen, but some are deciduous.

They bloom not only in the spring, but some varieties bloom both in the summer and fall. Callaway Gardens is famous for its picturesque mass of blooming azaleas. However, you too can have an attractive, colorful display of these plants in your home landscape. When planted and maintained properly, azaleas will bring beauty to the garden like few other plants can.

Most azaleas prefer a shaded area protected from the wind. In the winter, plants growing in shaded areas are less likely to suffer cold injury. Those growing in sites exposed to full sun are more susceptible to lace bugs and other pests.

Azaleas grow best in drained acidic soil with plenty of organic matter. The best time to fertilize the native azaleas is in the spring with a well balanced fertilizer. Use a 10-10-10 in March, April and May. Sometimes a condition called chlorosis occurs. The area between the veins turns a yellow or light green color. The cause is an iron deficiency, which often results from a pH that is too high. Have your soil tested for pH and nutrient content through Gwinnett County Extension. If the soil pH is above 5.5, then add some sulfur, ammonium sulfate or a specialized azalea fertilizer to the soil to lower it.

Azaleas have fine shallow roots and can rapidly dry out. They need to have evenly moist soil. Supplemental water may be necessary during dry spells. Azaleas do not tolerate poorly drained soils. Avoid planting them in low areas where water may puddle after a rain or near downspouts.

Plant the azaleas in holes that are two to three times the width of the root ball. The hole should be no deeper than the height of the root ball. Its crown needs to be level with the surrounding grade. Apply two to three inches of an organic mulch, such as pine straw or pine bark.

Azaleas can be pruned from the time they finish blooming through mid-July, after which they begin forming next year's flower buds. Pruning after this time will remove the buds that will form the flowers for the following year.

Three varieties of azaleas are available at the 2013 Annual Gwinnett County Extension Plant Sale: Camellia's Blush, which has pink flowers, the white blooming Summer Eyelet, and My Mary, which has yellow blossoms. If you are interested in purchasing some of these excellent plants, go online to the Extension website at www.gwinnettextension.org to download the brochure and order form or call the Gwinnett County Extension office for a form to be mailed to you. The deadline for ordering is March 12. The order pick-up day will be March 21 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds, 2405 Sugarloaf Parkway, Lawrenceville, GA.

Timothy Daly is an Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent with Gwinnett County. He can be contacted at 678-377-4010 or tdaly@uga.edu.