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ONE GARDENER TO ANOTHER: Tips on ensuring your azaleas stay healthy year-round

Azaleas are one of the most widely planted spring blooming shrubs. The burst of color from azaleas, whether manicured or left natural, bring stunning beauty to the garden and mark the time when winter is over and spring has finally sprung.

Although relatively maintenance free, azaleas benefit from a few standard practices as fall approaches that will help ensure a healthy and bountiful burst of blooms (say that five times, fast) come spring.

Azaleas need to go dormant during the winter season making it imperative that they harden off before the winter season. Hardening off, as it name implies, means that the plant will become tougher and better able to cope with the harsh conditions of winter. Watering should be reduced for the month before the first frost. After several frosts, in late fall, water your azaleas one more time before the brunt of the winter season.

Although many gardeners prefer to leave their azalea bushes to grow naturally, they do benefit from some pruning. Trim back branches to help maintain the shape and size of the plant. Remove any branches that are dead or diseased.

If the bush becomes too dense, it will suffer due to lack of air circulation. Remove interior branches down to the main trunk of the plant to “open up” your azalea and provide for proper air circulation.

Like most plants, azaleas should be mulched in fall to maintain soil moisture and temperature. Spread two inches of straw, hardwood mulch, pine straw or evergreen branches around the base of the plant, making sure to cover out over the expanse of the roots.

Leave a ring around the trunk of the azalea that is un-mulched. Having mulch piled around the trunk can cause damage from moisture, cause mold to form, and may attract insects.

We generally don’t get terribly cold winters here in North Alabama, however, newly established azaleas can be protected from the cold and heavy winds with a burlap or sheet cover or wrap. To make a wrap, place stakes around the perimeter of the plant and wrap burlap around the stakes, fastening the ends together.

If weather is particularly icy or cold, another piece of burlap or a sheet can be draped over top of the stakes for added protection. Don’t use plastic to cover your azaleas. Although it may seem like a good idea to cause a greenhouse effect, moisture can develop and freeze causing damage to the plant.

During late winter it is common for azaleas to show signs of leaf discoloration. Leaves will turn yellow or red. This is caused by a lack of nitrogen.

Fall and winter are not the time to fertilize as the damage to new growth is more detrimental to the plant than a temporary lack of nitrogen. Fertilize in spring after the threat of frost has passed.

If you find that you want to transplant your azalea, wait until spring. Limestone County is considered Hardiness Zone 7b. Azaleas when being transplanted, need time for their roots to re-establish. With the possibility of a harsh winter being a factor, your azalea will have an entire growing season to become established before the following winter.

Before transplanting, select the area for the plant to be moved and dig the hole. It should be just as deep as the root ball and twice as wide. Azaleas prefer light shade, moist, well-drained soil with a slightly acidic pH.

Cut a circle, approximately one foot from the trunk, around the plant. If your plant is quite large, cut a larger circle to avoid cutting as many roots as possible. Azalea roots can be as wide as three times the size of the plant itself.

Some of the roots getting cut is inevitable and generally will not harm the plant. Azalea roots are not very deep, so you will only need to cut down about one foot.

Using your shovel to lift the root ball from the earth, immediately move it to the new hole and fill with soil. Water thoroughly, and continue to water at the rate of 1-2 inches per day until the plant becomes established.

With a little care, you will blissfully behold the beautiful bouquet of bright, breathtaking blooms. Until next week, happy gardening.

— Irland, a member of the Limestone County Master Gardeners, can be reached at For more information on the Limestone County Master Gardeners, visit

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