Episode 1: Why Are My Camellias Turning Brown?


About This Episode

On the debut episode of Southern Living’s Ask Grumpy podcast, Steve Bender, also known as the Grumpy Gardener, and his sidekick Nellah McGough share the story of how they met, answer a reader’s camellia bush conundrum, and reveal the Plant of the Week, the encore azalea.

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Question: "I have a white camellia bush that's covered in buds every year, but most of the buds turn brown and fall off and never open. What is wrong with it?"

Grumpy Gardener Answer: It's s probably not your fault. When a camellia forms lots of flower buds, basically it's a happy plant, until all of a sudden the buds fall off and you feel terrible about it. And this is usually because of the weather. If it's full of buds, and then all of a sudden it doesn't rain for four weeks and it dries out, it may drop those buds. Probably the most common cause of this is, it's full of buds, they're swelling, they're just about ready to open, and then you get a freeze. Freezes the buds, they all die, and they fall off, and you're very unhappy, and there's nothing you can do about it. So don't worry, just wait until next year. It's only 365 days, right?

Encore Azalea
Azalea Encore 'Autumn Amethyst'. Photo © Drew Avery

Plant Of The Week

Every Wednesday, Grumpy shares the plant he is loving right now. This week he raves about Encore Azaleas.

The Encore Azalea

One of the most popular introductions we've ever had in the  gardening world, probably in the last decade or so, are these things called Encore Azaleas. And Encore Azaleas are different because, unlike the regular Evergreen Azaleas that only bloom in the spring, Encore Azaleas bloom in the spring, and then they follow it up with a big bloom in the fall, and sporadic blooms throughout the summer. So, you're really getting much more bang for buck, and people love that. They're widely available, they come in lots of different colors. You can get 'em in pink, and red, and white, and lavender, and orange, and purple. One thing I like about them is that they're not the old-fashioned kind that get as big as a house and eat up your whole porch, so you can still see out the windows. These things come in about two different kinds. One grows about two to three feet tall and wide, and the others grow about three to four feet tall and wide. But they're not gonna get so big they're gonna be a problem.

Also, the older Azaleas we had, grew best in light shade, or shade, which limits where you could put them. But Encore Azaleas love the sun. They actually bloom better in sun than they do in light shade, so if you're going to use them around your garden, or around the house, and it's a sunny spot, feel free just to put 'em out there. The more sun they get, the better they bloom.

Sunlight. They were hybrids that were created, basically down in south Alabama. And they did some breeding work, and one of the Azaleas that's a parent of the Encore comes from Asia, where they have a very warm climate, and it's very similar to what it is in the South. So, they grow very well here, and that's the reason why they take full sun, because that's how they normally grew, back in their native country.

Soil. You should have loose soil, it should be acid, and by that I mean the pH should be, below seven. You can get a soil test if you need to make that certain. But it needs to be acid soil, somewhere around the pH of about six or so. Because if it's alkaline, which is above seven, I'm getting too technical here, the leaves will start turning yellow.

If you have any questions about that, you can get soil test kits, tells you what kind of soil you have. And, you also, as far as soil goes, it needs to be well-drained so it doesn't stay soggy and wet for a long time, or it'll rot. And, it's good to get a lot of organic matter in there to kind of loosen up the soil. That's especially important if you have a heavy clay soil. Don't plant Azaleas in heavy clay because the water won't penetrate into the soil, and the plants won't grow well.

About Ask Grumpy

Introducing Ask Grumpy, a new podcast featuring Steve Bender, also known as Southern Living’s Grumpy Gardener. For more than 20 years, Grumpy has been sharing advice on what to grow, when to plant, and how to manage just about anything in your garden. Tune in for short episodes every Wednesday and Saturday as Grumpy answers reader questions, solves seasonal conundrums, and provides need-to-know advice for gardeners with his very Grumpy sense of humor. Download Ask Grumpy on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, or wherever you listen so you don't miss an episode.

Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript does not go through our standard editorial process and may contain inaccuracies and grammatical errors.

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