Azaleas would have to be one of the most colourful small Autumn to Spring flowering shrubs. They make ideal pot specimens growing on a shady patio or they can be taken inside for a short time. Azaleas come in a wide colour range, from white through to pink, red purple and multicolours on the one flower.
Many people are afraid to try and grow Azaleas, thinking that these plants are hard to grow. During my great grandfather's time that might have been true due to a lack of knowledge, but in this generation we have better knowledge of our soils and how to correct the different types of problems that might arise.
Azaleas grow naturally on forest floors with acidic soil conditions, this means that they will not tolerate alkaline soil. One of the best products to dig into the soil is Copra, which has the qualities of holding moisture in the soil as well as allowing excess water to drain through. Copra products will break clay type soils apart and bind sandy soils together so that any type of soil can become pliable and workable. The best part of Copra is that it will turn the soil into an acidic mix, providing that you use the right proportions when mixing.
Azaleas must have a slightly acidic soil(pH 5-6), good drainage and the roots must be cool and moist. If they are planted in a large pot be sure there is good drainage with large pieces of broken pots in the bottom, covering the hole area. Each year check the bottom of the pot to make sure that the hole is clear. Where the soil is heavy, dig in Gypsum Clay Breaker (500g per square metre) to help break up the clay. Excess water moving across the surface area of the soil can be controlled by planting above ground level and retaining with timber, stone or brick walling. Another method is to make a mound and plant on top or place a tree guard around the base of the plant. When planting Azaleas in the ground, the soil should have large quantities of Copra Plus and well-rotted Cow Manure worked in.
PLANTING IN TUBS
Most nurseries have a special potting mixture ready for planting Azaleas in tubs or containers. These plants should not be planted too deeply and the soil should be lightly tamped down and well watered after planting. The average person tends to pack the soil too loosely around the plant and later on the roots are exposed after the soil has settled down.
Stand the containers off the ground on bricks or pot legs and this will allow the water to drain away from the soil. I can't stress enough how important it is to make sure that the Azalea plants do not become under or over watered especially when grown in containers.
May to October is the best time to plant Azaleas. This is the time when most of the plants are flowering, allowing you to choose the colours.
Self-watering pots is the best way to ensure that your prized Azaleas are kept healthy and alive with the correct amount of soil moisture. These pots can be connected to an automatic or manual drip watering system.
During the flowering season they can be attacked by fungal diseases such as Petal Blight, which can destroy the blooms. The symptoms are light brown or whitish coloured circular spots on the petals. The spots then enlarge to form irregular watery blotches until the whole flower collapses. The infected petals feel slimy when you touch them and eventually the diseased flowers dry up and cling to the plant. The best way to control this disease is to spray with Bayleton garden fungicide. This product is a systemic fungicide which will help cure the disease and prevent further infection. The following season should be followed up with Bayleton when the buds first begin to show colour.
If you are not sure that your plant is suffering from any desease, take a small sample to a nursery person who will gladly help you.
The correct amount of moisture for the Azalea plant is very important and it is impossible to tell you how much water to give each plant. Sandy soils need more water than heavy loam soils and plants in areas protected from winds need less water than plants in unprotected positions. Azaleas need to be kept moist not waterlogged. The most important point is that the plants should not become dry.
Once the hot summer weather arrives the bushes should be well mulched. First cover the ground with 1/4 an inch of well-matured cow manure, then place on top 2 inches of Organic Garden Mulch. Next cover the compost with red gum chips or bark, this will act as a main top mulch.