Are Azaleas High Maintenance?
First off, there’s not a simple yes/no answer to the question of azaleas being high maintenance. To fully answer that question, one would have to account for a multitude of factors. The primary factors that prevent a simple yes or no answer are based on the region of the world you might live in and whether your plants will be living indoors or outdoors.
Gun to my head, azaleas are not high maintenance. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t equip yourself with as much possible knowledge around the plant before diving in.
Second, azaleas are the Ericaceae family, the Rhododendron genus, and evergreen and deciduous species. The plants tend to bloom in the spring; they love the sun and shade equally. There are single blooming azaleas and multi bloom azaleas. They’re a rather versatile plant that can thrive in zone 3 up to 12. They prefer well-drained acidic soil, and you can indeed find them at any local nursery, but they can quickly be grown from seed.
Let’s take this opportunity to address maintaining azaleas indoors. In several regions, people gift their friends with decorative potted and shaped azaleas, and the more I think about it, the more I love it. Important side note, azaleas produce toxins within their leaves and flowers, so be mindful and don’t let children or pets sneak a bit out of them.
If you’re going to bring an azalea or two into your home, be sure you place them in the coldest room or hallway in your domicile, and if possible, they’re receiving 6 hours of indirect sunline. They prefer temperatures around 50-70 Fahrenheit. I assume you don’t have humidifiers running year-round in your house, so we should address watering techniques. Not that there’s anything wrong with humidifiers.
When watering your indoor azaleas, there’s no room for missed opportunities. Your best bet is to submerge the container in water (preferably rainwater) until the air bubbles that emerge from the soil stop. Then place the plant on a tray that excess water can stay near. This will keep your furniture safe, allow the soil to be adequately soaked, and create humidity for the plant. This process should be done once a week, at a minimum.
Fertilizing your indoor azaleas is not the same as fertilizing those that are outdoors. Find an azalea-specific fertilizer from your nursery, and stick with that. Do not fertilize in the winter and fertilize less in the summer.
Azaleas are hearty plants; it’s undoubtedly one reason why they are so prevalent. The most high maintenance quality of the azaleas is that they require a good deal of soil moisture checking. Let’s start with springtime for azaleas. Resist all urges to prune the plants in the spring. The spring is when you want to focus on preparing your plant for the summer, which means fertilizing with a strong 20/20/20 balance regularly.
Check the soil daily and ensure that you water all the soil surrounding the plant, or else that outer soil will drink up water that the plant needs. With time you should be able to find an appropriate spring watering and fertilizing schedule. While yes, these are hardy plants, overwatering will lead to root rot.
When summer comes around, you are going to want to get back to daily soil checks. If this is sounding high maintenance, perhaps I need to do some internal reevaluation. Allow the soil close to the plant to dry before each watering. With the arrival of the summer here, you are going to want to switch fertilizers. We want to reduce the plant’s nitrogen uptake to focus on root development to aid in surviving the hot summer. Thus, switching to a high phosphorus fertilizer, a starter fertilizer, or a 10/30/10 mix will work.
The fall brings shorter days, which means your azaleas will require probably slightly less watering. The same can be said about your fertilizing routine. You can continue with starter fertilizer; don’t be too liberal with it. The focus during the fall is again on root development in preparation for a cold winter.
Finally, winter is coming. Don’t fertilize your azaleas during the winter months. That can wait till March. With the crazy weather and climate we here in the US have been experiencing, our summers are hotter, and our winters are colder. If your local forecast calls for temperature in the teens (Fahrenheit), cover your azaleas with a sheet and remove it once it has warmed up. Fall and winter indeed represent low maintenance seasons for this plant.
Disease and Pest Control
Like all other plants, azaleas are susceptible to disease and pests; therefore, more maintenance is required. Be on the lookout for lace bugs, mites, frost burn, check leaves for black spots on the back of leaves or the leaves turning white. Growers should always use fungicide or pesticides according to the directions of their preferred product. Spray under and on top of leaves for best performance.
However, don’t treat your plant for diseases or pests while in bloom; wait. Bees could collect pollen from the flower, return home and damage their ecosystem, vital to our human ecosystem. We love bees here and strive to protect them.
Proper medium upkeep is essential for healthy azaleas; while this might sound high maintenance to some, it could be worse. Azaleas also have shallow root systems, which means if you want to reduce future maintenance, you will want to apply some mulch around the base of the plant to protect those shallow roots. Avoid having mulch up against the trunk itself.
If you live in a very hot or frigid environment, you should consider applying mulch before summer starts to protect your azaleas better. When applying fertilizers, brush the mulch off to the side and return afterward. If you can, include some pine start in with your mulch, with this increased acidity. Don’t aerate your soil; mixing topsoil will break critical root systems.
As previously mentioned, this plant loves a well-drained acidic medium; they thrive in soil with a pH balance of 4.5-5.5 in all environments. Some ppl have tried to use vinegar to increase soil acidity. I am not sure why people would do that, but all should avoid it. Also, don’t put sanitizer or ivermectin on your azaleas.
There’s no academic scientific data that claims that those ingredients will help your azaleas. Peat moss and azalea mix fertilizers will keep your soil in perfect order year-round.
When it comes to pruning, this is where some individual creativity gets to play. Maintain the size and shape you want. There is no wrong way to prune. There is a wrong time to prune, and that would be while the flower is in bloom. Only prune post blooming; this will ensure you don’t remove any future blooms. Be sure to remove any dead or diseased material. Making an azalea into an actual bonsai is easy and a great way to practice trimming and pruning. Always use sharp, clean instruments while pruning. It’s just good practice.
Even with all of this, I still believe that the azaleas are a low-maintenance plant indoors or outdoors, no matter the climate. Anyone should purchase plants and easily enjoy, or better yet, forge, sew, and enjoy an azalea for years. It isn’t easy to think of another plant that offers the perfect balance of skill and ease of growing. The azalea is an excellent plant to build confidence and acquire all the needed skills to become a green enthusiast.
Looking After your Azaleas
We as a planet have been enduring some significant challenges as of late. These challenges affect everyone in their unique manner. Some people adapt to the challenges and evolve with change. Others resist this change and respond to challenges with a demand for control.
However, the challenge we face demands adaptation. A need to control and a perceived sense of personal safety is at the root of human existence. Well, at least that’s what Maslow thought. If you are experiencing a lack of control, remember that you can grow plants and be in complete control of a living thing that will benefit you and those around you. Perhaps this could act as a coping mechanism to the challenges Earth has been experiencing. Azaleas would undoubtedly be an inexpensive source of physiological control.
I’m not saying that starting a garden or bringing some plants into your home will fulfill any needs. I am only pointing out that, similar to raising a child or pet, maintaining a plant can be relaxing and rewarding, especially in times of uncertainty. Exploring the needs of humans is far beyond the scope of this article.
However, I don’t want to miss an opportunity to promote horticulture as an enriching inexpensive hobby. The scope of this article is focused on the care and maintenance of Azaleas. We will explore indoor growing, seasonal maintenance, disease and bug protection, medium upkeep, and pruning.