Azalea shrubs need an area that is partially shaded with acidic (pH 5.5), well-drained soil. Getting your soil tested with a kit from your local nursery or from your state or county agriculture extension service office will help you know what your soil needs are. If too acidic, you can add lime. If it is too alkaline, add ammonium or peat moss. Trees like maples, elms, and some oaks have shallow roots that may compete with the azalea for nutrients and moisture. Don’t plant them too close to these.
If drainage is a problem with your soil, consider planting in raised beds. These should be 10” – 12” deep, and filled with good soil with ground pine bark or peat moss added to it. Garden compost or packaged garden soil is also good to mix in. Raised beds will require more watering than planting in the ground.
Preparing for Planting
Water your azalea/rhododendron well. Carefully remove the plant from the pot, being sure not to pull on the plant to get the roots out. If the roots are slightly root bound, make ¼” vertical cuts in the root ball to encourage the roots to grow out into the new soil.
When planting more than one shrub, allow a few feet between to give the shallow roots plenty of room to spread.
Dig the hole a few inches deeper than the pot, and as wide as the mature plant. Loosen, then firm the soil in the bottom of the hole to prevent settling. Azaleas should sit even, or slightly higher, than the ground around the hole.
Place your new plant in the hole and water it to assure the roots are moist. Fill with soil, gently tamping it down as you add soil so as not to damage the roots. Once the hole is filled, water the azaleas slowly for 5-10 minutes to eliminate air pockets.
Next, spread a 3” – 4” layer of mulch over the soil. Pine needles or pine bark make excellent mulch because they add acidity to the soil. Mulch helps the soil maintain an even temperature and moisture level. Do NOT add fertilizer at this time. Wait until the plant is well established before adding fertilizer. Usually adding organic mulch will give the plants enough nutrients. A slow release fertilizer, or ones specified for azaleas, may be necessary if the plant shows signs of deficiency (yellowing leaves or stunted growth).
Care After Planting
Early Spring is the optimal to prune azaleas, especially Conversation Piece Azaleas, before they put out new growth. You may even cut off this season’s flowers to bring their beauty inside. This will give the plant plenty of time to fill out and for the growth to mature before winter. Azaleas start growing next year’s flower buds right after they bloom. Pruning in the Fall runs the risk of the new growth getting damaged by cold winter temperatures. Shaded branches should be cut off since they usually become dead wood. Make sure to create enough room for growth under the plant, as well as the outside of the plant. Then prune just to maintain the shape of your azalea bush.
Be sure to water often enough to keep the roots from drying out. This will depend on temperatures and precipitation. Miracid can be applied once the shrub is well-established to give it the controlled amount of acid and other nutrients it needs to thrive.