Past Articles Library | Azaleas-How to Care and Propagate Them
Azaleas are a favorite flowering shrub in the south. Do not be discouraged if you do not live in this region, you can still grow this wonderful plant with a little additional work.
Identifying an azalea can be a little tricky since this species can be found in both evergreen and deciduous varieties. The easiest way to recognize them is through their blooms. Azaleas have funnel- shaped flowers with five stamens.
Once you have identified the azalea, you will need to prepare the garden space. As stated before, to grow these lovely plants one will need to work a little hard work when it comes to your soil. Azaleas like an acidic environment that does not contain a lot of clay. They also like filtered light and production from the wind. For many gardeners, these requirements can be a challenge. But following the steps below will help you create a suitable environment in a few easy steps.
If you have clay soil or do not know what kind of soil you have, the best approach is to create a raised bed for your azaleas. This can be very basic or elaborate. The design is up to you and your landscape requirement but the bed itself needs to be 15 to 18 inches deep.
Once the bed is built, roll out landscape cloth to block weeds and create a separation between your created soil and the ground. After the landscape cloth has been rolled out and secured to the ground with landscape spikes, the next step is to make your designer soil that will address the acidic needs of your plant.
The recipe for this soil is simple and only contains equal parts of finely milled bark and course sphagnum moss. This combination will help create that 5.0 to 6.0 pH environment. Thoroughly mix these ingredients and then place inside the bed. The next thing you will need to make is a substance that will balance out the chemistry of water. Many city water sources are more alkaline and if used on azaleas will raise the pH. To balance this out, combine 3 parts garden sulfur to 1 part iron sulfate. Apply this at 1 pound per 100 square foot. Doing this simple step, will help keep the pH where it needs to be.
Now that the bed has been filled with the designer soil, the next step is to plant the azalea. Unlike other plants, azaleas like to have their root ball planted slightly above the soil level. In doing so, the hole will need to be twice the width of the pot the azalea is in and slightly shallower then the container. Once the hole is dug, gently remove the azalea from its container. To prevent damaging the plant, cut away the plastic container verses trying to pull the plant out of the container. After the plant has been removed, do a dry-run of the hole before planting the azalea. Once you are satisfied with the hole, gently tease or loosen the roots, place the plant in the hole, and fill in.
Water the plant in and add additional soil as needed. As far as watering goes, azaleas are again a little different. When watering, water only in the morning to reduce fungal problems and water both the roots and the leaves. Azaleas receive moisture from both locations.
Do not mulch at this time but instead mulch in the spring after the plant has bloomed. Also, this is the only time of the year that you should fertilize so broadcast a commercial acidic fertilizer designed just for azaleas or use cottonseed meal.
To keep the azalea in shape, pinch back the spent blooms and any area that needs a little trim. If you need to take more off, do not waste the plant material instead bring it inside and display it in a vase but watch when you do more radical pruning. Evergreen azaleas can be pruned from spring to June while deciduous varieties should only be pruned while dormant.
In the fall, do not mulch the area. This keeps the soil temperature too warm and prevents the plant from going dormant, which is very important when it comes to bloom formation.
Now that you know how to grow them, how do you propagate them?
Share the Wealth-Propagating Azaleas
While there are several different ways of propagating azaleas, some of these can be complicated and have a low success rate so in this section we are only going to discuss cuttings.
Prior to taking any cutting, one must first understand what kind of azalea they have. A plant that keeps its leaves on year-round is considered an evergreen while one that sheds all its leaves is considered a deciduous tree. Once you know what type of azalea you have; now you can start the propagation process.
To propagate an evergreen azalea through cuttings begins around June. During this time, new growth has appeared but it has not become hard as wood. If you take a branch from an azalea that you would like to take a cutting from, it should not snap like a twig but it should not bend like rubber but instead it should be between that soft and brittle stage.
Once you have found your branch, the next step is to cut it. This should be done when the plant is well watered and in the morning. Cut at an angle a two to five inch piece from the top of a branch. Pinch off any flowers and top leaves and place in a plastic bag. After you have taken all your cuttings and placed them in a clear, plastic bag, place the bag in the fridge overnight.
Now make the planting medium by which you will be placing the cutting into. This can be a 1:1 ratio of peat to vermiculite but other combinations can also be used as long as the ratio is followed. This includes coarse perlite, sand, and fine bark. Once the planting medium is made, place in a flat.
The next morning, remove the cuttings from the fridge and remove the bottom leaves of each cutting. You need to make sure that no leaves will touch the planting medium when the cutting is placed into it. After this is done, make a new angled cut on the bottom and stick into a powdered rooting hormone. Then, make a hole with a pencil in the planting medium and place the cutting inside that hole. Repeat with the remaining cuttings and water in. Place clear, plastic wrap over the flat and put in a location that receives indirect sunlight.
In four to eight weeks, you should have rooted azaleas. To test this, gently tug on each cutting. If the start has rooted, there will be some resistance to the tug.
Once they have rooted, transplant into a pot filled with peat moss and place in a cold frame for at least a year.
Deciduous azalea cuttings are harder to root. The process is the same as above but the cutting should be taken in May. They also should be placed on a propagation mat to aid in rooting process.
Once rooted, the cuttings should be fertilized with a solution that is at half strength. Also, they should be exposed to extra sunlight that consists of for three to four hours a day. Continue with this light treatment until September, when it should be discontinued. This light reduction triggers the plant into dormancy.
As you can see, azaleas do require a little additional work but their beauty makes it all worth it.