Azaleas are one of the most beautiful perennial shrubs you can have in your yard. They are also one of the most poisonous to people and their pets, yet they remain one of the South’s favorites to plant.
Planting azaleas in your Marietta Georgia yard will give a springtime color show with their signature blooms year after year. Closely related to rhododendrons, this easy to care for shrub is a slow grower but well worth the effort and wait.
The team at toddsmariettatreeservices.com collected the following planting, blooming, toxicology, and care information for those wanting to add azaleas to their yard or landscape.
Azaleas are a member of the genus Rhododendron, which comprises well over 800 species and upwards of 10,000 named selections. Azaleas thrive in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 through 9 and are capable of reaching several feet in height and width depending on the species.
Rhododendrons and Azaleas – While the two belong to the same family (Ericaceae), it is not difficult to tell them apart. Azaleas have much smaller leaves and funnel-shaped blooms, while rhododendrons have bell-shaped flowers and much larger leaves.
Evergreen or Deciduous – Depending on the species, azaleas can be evergreen or deciduous shrubs. Those of the deciduous species will lose their foliage and begin dormancy in mid to late fall.
Spring Flowers – Azelias bloom in early spring and continue to do so through late spring. Varieties such as the encore azalea will bloom a second time, extending the blooming period into the summer.
Planting and Caring for Azaleas
Planted in the right location and given the proper care, azaleas will thrive and will provide onlookers with a springtime show of color year after year.
Planting Season – In most areas, fall and spring are the best times to plant azaleas. In colder regions such as USDA Hardiness Zones 4 and 5, planting may occur in summertime. In warmer areas like zone 9, planting may even happen in the winter.
Planting Location – Azalea sun tolerance varies by species and selection. When planting azaleas, look for areas that are partly shaded, near hedges, under tree canopies, or the east and north side of a home or structure. Locations sheltered from heavy winds are best.
Soil Type and pH – Well-drained, humus-rich, moisture-retentive soil offers the ideal conditions for growth. Soil with heavy clay or sandy properties needs significant amounts of organic material, such as compost added to it to provide the same conditions.
Azaleas thrive in acidic soil. A pH level of 4.5 to 6.0 should be maintained to provide optimal health and growth conditions.
Planting Instructions – One of the keys to successfully growing azaleas is proper planting. The following will help you get it right:
- Dig a hole 8 to 10 inches deep.
- The hole should be three times as wide as the root ball.
- Mix in copious amounts of organic material to the removed soil.
- Add enough of the mixed soil back to the hole so that the top of the root ball is approximately 2” above ground level.
- Replace and mound the amended soil in the hole until level with the edge of the root ball.
When planting in soil with high clay content, make the hole four to five times wider than the root ball and plant the azalea so that the top of the root ball is 3 to 4 inches above ground level.
When planting in sandy soil, the top of the root ball should be level with the surrounding land.
Watering Your Azaleas – After planting azaleas, water them thoroughly. For the first 18 months after planting, avoid frequent short watering. Deep watering at least once per week will keep the root ball from drying and allow for better root growth.
During late fall be sure to frequently deep water your azaleas and all other deciduous plants and trees. They handle the winter months and dormancy much better when well hydrated.
Fertilizers – Early spring and early summer are the best times to apply organic fertilizers. Avoid the use of chemical fertilizers as azaleas are not as nutritionally needy as other plant species.
Do not fertilize after mid-summer. Doing this will encourage new growth, which will not have time to “harden” before the winter months.
Mulch – After deep watering a newly planted azalea, apply a 3-inch layer of porous organic mulch around the plant. Keep the mulch 2 to 3 inches from the stem to avoid rotting and decay.
Reapply mulch in late fall, maintaining the 3-inch depth, thus keeping the roots sheltered from the cold or freeze.
Pruning – For small or younger azaleas, tip pruning in mid to late spring will encourage thicker and more compact growth.
When pruning more mature azaleas, do not remove more than one-third of the foliage. Removal such as this will stress the plant and leave it vulnerable to infestation and disease. If heavy pruning is needed, do it in annual stages allowing the plant to recover between each stage.
As pruning activities encourage new growth, do not prune after mid-summer.
Toxicology of Azaleas
Like the rhododendron, azaleas are highly toxic. The leaves and nectar contain andromedotoxins which act to lower the blood pressure of the person or animal that consumed it.
Mad Honey – In parts of Turkey, bees are deliberately fed nectar from azaleas and rhododendrons to produce what is known as “mad honey” or “Deli Bal.” This occasionally lethal treat contains a naturally occurring neurotoxin called grayanotoxin which may result in blurred vision, numbness, nausea, fainting, seizures, and in rare cases, even death.
Grayanotoxin Poisoning – If you suspect that a child (or adult) has consumed azalea leaves, stems, or flowers, seek immediate medical attention. Depending on the quantity consumed, symptoms such as respiratory distress, hypotension, bradycardia, constricted pupils, salivation and muscle twitching, or seizure may occur.
If your pets have consumed the leaves, stems, or flowers, seek veterinary assistance immediately. Symptoms from grayanotoxin poisoning include vomiting, depression, diarrhea, and anorexia.
If you suspect that your pet has consumed a poisonous plant or substance, you can call the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435 or visit https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control
Insect Infestation and Illness
Insects and diseases tend to avoid vigorous plants. However, when azaleas are stressed, they may fall victim to lace bugs or Phytophthora.
Lace Bugs – We do not recommend the use of insecticides. They can kill off the lace bug’s predators leaving the plant defenseless against them. Insecticidal soaps or neem oil sprayed on the plant every two weeks is an effective measure in controlling this pest.
Phytophthora – This soil-borne fungus thrives in poorly drained soil and is very difficult to treat. Symptoms of Phytophthora fungus infection are:
- Reduced growth.
- Any new growth will appear smaller than usual.
- Leaves will shrivel or droop.
- The bark at the base will turn dark red or brown.
Protecting azaleas from this pathogen begins in the planting stage. Avoid planting in poorly drained soil and keep your plant healthy. Pathogens like this are less likely to affect healthy plants.
Once infected, your best course of action may be to remove the entire plant and the soil it grew in, destroying or disposing of both. Any attempts to prune affected regions of the plant may serve only to propagate the spread of the pathogen to other plants.
Before replanting in that location, it should be treated with a fungicide and verified that other plants in the same area are not afflicted. Remember that this is a fast-moving root fungus that thrives in poorly drained soil. Adding organic material to the soil before any planting will help protect the roots of your plants.
Azalea Care for A Beautiful Marietta Georgia Landscape
Azaleas can be a gorgeous addition to any landscape. However, before planting them, it is vital to know not only what you are planting, but also how to plant it and care for it.
In this article, we’ve discussed how to properly plant and water azaleas, as well as how to choose the right location for them. You’ve learned about their toxicology and how the consumption of the plant by animals or children may lead to serious health problems up to and including potential death. Finally, we’ve presented how to treat and contain instances of infestation and illness.
Without the proper planting and care, your azaleas will struggle to reach maturity and become susceptible to infestation and disease. By following the above guidance during and after planting, your plant will respond with robust growth and beautiful blooms in the spring.