Azalea Mistakes Every Southern Gardener Should Avoid

Bypass these rookie mistakes and grow the South's favorite blooming shrub like a pro.

Photo: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

At Southern Living, we have no shortage of azalea wisdom to draw on. (Can you imagine how many times they've appeared in our magazine since gracing the very first cover in 1966? The answer is too many to count.) We've searched the annals of Southern Living garden coverage and put together our list of top don'ts when caring for azaleas.

1. Don't buy heat-lovers if you live where it snows.

Knowing what to plant is as important as knowing where to plant it. Choose the right selections for your plant zone and your desired bloom time. You can get ideas and information from your local nursery, get detailed azalea bush info and browse azalea varieties here on, or by picking up a copy of The New Southern Living Garden Book—edited by our very own Grumpy Gardener—which offers up an exhaustive listing of rhododendrons and azaleas. Choose well, and they'll reward you with blooms for years to come.

2. Don't plant azaleas in deep shade or scorching sun.

While azaleas are relatively easy to care for, they do have preferences. They might grow in deep shade, but they won't bloom profusely (or at all). And while some azaleas can take the heat, most prefer filtered shade—picture the soft light beneath tall pines—or partial sun (a half-day, tops). Aim for that filtered shade (or part sun and part shade) for healthy plants. Too much sun will shorten bloom time and make for more compact shrubs; it may also encourage plants to fall prey to predatory bugs.

3. Don't scrimp on the dirt.

Azaleas don't like clay and they don't like limy, alkaline soil. When it comes to the earth that you're planting in, what you're going for is moist, organically enriched, well-drained soil with a pH of 5.0 to 6.0. Hit this sweet spot, and you'll be setting up your azaleas for a long life in a rich environment.

4. Don't overwater your azalea bushes.

Keeping azaleas healthy means being responsible with the watering hose. Azaleas like a good drink of water on the regular, but they don't like wet feet in soggy ground. Try not to overwater, but keep an eye on the plants (and the weather) to ensure they're getting enough H2O.

5. Don't mulch in the fall or fertilize before the bloom.

Mulching in fall delays dormancy, which might cause winter damage; fertilizing before plants bloom in the spring encourages leafy growth when you don't want it. Grumpy encourages mulching and fertilizing in the spring after the blooms disappear. (He opts for a controlled-release, acid-forming fertilizer.)

6. Don't wait too late to prune.

Prune right after the bloom. For most azaleas, next year's show will come from flower buds made this year, and if you prune too late, i.e. once the buds have appeared, well, you'll be bringing the curtain down prematurely. Deciduous azaleas should be pruned while dormant, while evergreen azaleas can be tip-pinched after flowering ends and into the summer to keep them shaped and compact.

7. Don't plant a polka-dot garden.

While it can be nice to plant a red azalea here and a white one there, a pink one here and an orange there, if you want to make the most of your plantings, you should opt for a big sweep of a single hue. Doing this will draw the eye in and create impact and drama. It will form a focal point of contrasting color in the midst of a green garden (and who doesn't love that?).

Now that you know what not to do, you're ready to choose your azaleas, and get growing! They're a fantastic beginner shrub for Southern gardens, and once they start blooming, you'll understand why they've been the region's favorite flowering plant for ages.

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