Grumpy Gardener Steve Bender shares tips and tricks on how to plant and care for one of the South's favorite plants. Azaleas prefer light shade and acid soil containing plenty of organic matter. Azaleas are the one group of plants Southerners never tire of learning about. Azaleas like a little of both shade and sun, but not too much of either. Plant them in blazing hot sun, and they may suffer leaf scorch or become targets for leaf-sucking pests such as spider mites and lace bugs. Plant them in dense shade, and they won't bloom. A good location is where they receive either dappled sun all day or sun in the morning and light shade in the afternoon. Use moist, acid (pH 5.5 or so), well-drained soil with lots of organic matter, such as peat, compost, chopped leaves, or ground bark. They won't grow in heavy clay, pure sand, or alkaline soil. If your existing soil is too bad to fix, plant azaleas in raised beds or containers. Spring and fall, when temperatures are cool, are excellent times to plant. But if you buy in spring when the azaleas are blooming, you'll be assured of getting the colors you want. Summer planting is okay, but you'll have to water frequently during hot weather.

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