by Pat Baker
It’s that time of year when we start thinking about Azaleas! A profusion of color explodes for several weeks around the area in a variety of sizes and hues. In the next week or so we will be getting one of the most popular azaleas – Encore. These special azaleas bloom three times a year. The “Autumn” series are as numerous as they are beautiful. We will also have the traditional azaleas.
Southern indica azaleas are the old spring blooming varieties, the ones around the old southern mansions, the ones that were hedges around the old homes on the Houston River Oaks azalea trail.
For a few years they were out of favor. A new group of azaleas displaced them, Encore azaleas, the repeat bloomers. One of our better wholesale growers even stopped growing the old indica varieties. It turns out they still have a valuable place in the landscape. The developers of the newer varieties of azaleas have made some trade offs to get repeat blooming. Many of the newer azalea varieties are not good in the shade, do not recover if they get too dry, and seem to become thin and open at the slightest provocation. That being said, the new repeat bloomers like the encores do outsell the indica azaleas by ten to one, because they do bloom and bloom and bloom.
Indica azaleas set their buds in June, so you don’t want to trim or fertilize them after that. The old complaint about indica azaleas is that they only bloom for a month or so. But when they are in bloom for that month, spectacular! If they are planted correctly, in a raised bed, and if they are watered daily the first summer or two, and if you fertilize at the right time of year, they make very attractive low maintenance specimen shrubs or hedges. Three to ten foot tall hedges that have massive numbers of blooms for a month.
On older well established azaleas, the number one cause of damage, and death is too much mulch. Azaleas do not like thick layers of mulch.
A few of the indica azaleas we will have this year are:
Formosa, the most common old azalea around here, are deep rose-purple pink. Judge Solomon, pink; Mrs G. G. Gerbing, white; George L. Tabor, light pink.
- The best location depends on the variety, some like a sunny spot, at least 4-6 hours daily, but with some afternoon shade which is to preserve your plant in the intense Texas heat. They can take filtered sun also and some grow well in the shade.
- Plant them in a raised bed.
- Separate the root ball. THIS IS IMPORTANT. Plants taken from the container straight into the ground will most likely die in 2 years unless the root ball is separated to encourage quick growth.
- Fill in with good soil (like our organic mix) and water thoroughly.
- To create a moist environment, a LIGHT mulch layer is recommended but do not pile it up around the base of the plant. Too much mulch kills azaleas.
- Check the moisture during the summer when it is the hottest even if you have an automatic watering system. When temperatures reach triple digits, the ground can dry out quickly. New azaleas will need daily watering for the first two summers.
- Feed with a fertilizer after they bloom out and a month later but not afterwards. For those who use organic fertilizer like Microlife, we have a new formula especially designed for Azaleas.
- Prune after the spring blooming. If you wait too long, you will be cutting off future blooms.
So you now have the basics for getting started on planting azaleas or if you are taking care of your old favorites in your established yard.