By Diane Otis, Marion County Master Gardener
Azaleas are bursting into bloom all over Ocala. One of my neighbors has a low hedge of orange-red azaleas outside his door; another has an island of tall azaleas in multiple colors under a specimen oak. A single azalea blossom is attractive enough for a close-up photograph of it alone; a bush covered with blossoms makes a remarkable spring show. Want to know more about these remarkable plants? Read on.
When do azaleas bloom in Florida?
Florida azaleas bloom from late February to early April, depending on the variety and our weather. Since we have had such a mild winter this year, azaleas are blooming a bit early.
How should you plant an azalea?
Location is important. Azaleas prefer filtered light and need well-drained soil. Dense shade will reduce growth and flowering. Soils with a pH of 4.5 to 5.5 are best for azaleas, so you may want to have your soil tested if you would like to install several bushes. (Soil can be tested at your local county Extension Office.) Amending the soil with peat, compost or pine bark can help increase moisture, nutrient and micro-nutrient retention. If your pH is borderline or slightly high, you can lower it with an application of 1 lb. of elemental sulfur per 100 square feet of planting, but sulfur should not be used more than 2 or 3 times per year.
Azaleas should be planted in a hole 12 inches wider than the root-ball at or slightly above the depth at which they were growing. They should be spaced 3-5 feet apart depending on the mature size of your cultivar. Two to three inches of organic mulch will help conserve moisture and reduce weeds, but don’t allow the mulch to touch the trunk or branches.
How do I care for my azaleas?
Newly planted azaleas should be watered twice weekly if the weather is dry, and established plants should receive water every 10-14 days. Wet the soil to a depth of 14-18 inches. Light applications of an acid-forming fertilizer complete with micro-nutrients should be done in spring, summer and fall. Fertilizers made specifically for azaleas are available. Apply approximately ¼ pound to a mature plant or ¾ to 1½ pounds per 100 square feet.
When should you prune azaleas?
Pruning is necessary to create a full, well-branched azalea. Several light prunings just after flowering and continuing through the growing season will result in a compact, denser plant. Flower buds are initiated in late spring and early summer, long before they can be seen, so pruning should end in midsummer (July 4 is an easy date to remember). Pruning after this date decreases the number of spring flowers.
Can you propagate your azaleas?
Evergreen azaleas are usually propagated by cuttings since the new plants will be genetically identical to the parent plants. Take 3-4 inch cuttings after the spring growth has hardened or matured (June). Deciduous azaleas (those that lose their leaves in winter) are usually propagated by seed or layering because cuttings are difficult to root.