Azaleas are remarkably easy to grow, hence their immense popularity with homeowners and landscapers everywhere. They are super-tough, for one thing. For another, they grow big enough to create privacy screens and attract wildlife, yet not so big as to be problematic. Best of all, they produce the most gorgeous Spring blooms.
Did your azaleas bloom poorly last Spring? Do they have only a meager number of buds formed for this Spring? Don't take it lying down! Let's look at some reasons why azaleas fail to bloom, and simple solutions to get those beautiful buds back:
1. Excessive pruning. My personal pet peeve: spindly-looking azaleas pruned to within an inch of their lives, usually by well-meaning folks wielding power trimmers. Constantly trimming back new growth forces the plant into a fight for survival. Such a plant cannot bloom well when Spring rolls around. Click to the next page for solutions to this and other azalea woes!
Solution: If you're guilty of over-pruning, it's not too late to change your ways. Lock up the power tools and learn to prune shrubs correctly, by hand. If you have been pruning excessively because your azaleas are growing too close to the house, consider relocating them to a spot where they can thrive and grow to their natural size.
I'm not gonna lie: this will definitely involve some extremely laborious digging (not to mention sweating and cursing), but it is do-able, because azalea roots are relatively shallow. Planting tips are easily found on the Web.
2. Late pruning. Do you put off pruning until late summer or fall, when it's more pleasant to be out in the garden? Big mistake! Azaleas bloom in spring, meaning around March to May, depending on where you live. After the flowers have died back in early summer, the plants set buds for next year. Therefore, pruning later than mid-summer means you will probably sacrifice next year's flowers. Oops!
Solution: Prune your azaleas immediately after they are done blooming. Then leave them alone! Want to plan ahead? The Azalea Society of America's wonderful website provides more guidance on bloom times.
3. Too little mulch. Weeds sprouting around your azaleas? This is a giveaway sign that you need to add mulch. Too little mulch dries out the plant's root system and results in less than optimal growth.
Solution: Add a generous layer of mulch. The best mulches for azaleas are pine needles and pine bark chips, because they are affordable, readily-available, and help keep the soil's pH level low.
4. Too much mulch. Mulch is good, but don't go overboard. Mulching more than a couple of inches limits the flow of rainwater and nutrients to the roots of the plant, and that, in turn, limits growth.
Solution: Ensure your azaleas' root systems are protected by a layer of mulch about two inches deep. If you are adding mulch, spread enough to completely cover the soil. Then stop!
5. Mulch pyramids. Also known as mulch volcanoes, these happen when mulch gets piled up around the base of a plant or the trunk of a tree. They are bad, very bad, because the moisture invites fungal infections and root rot.
Solution: clear a circle around the very base of the plant, then spread mulch outward in a big circle extending about three feet in every direction from the trunk.
6. Soil too moist. Azaleas don't like wet feet, so they must be planted in soil that drains easily. Repeatedly wet roots are susceptible to root rot.
Solution: Burrow your fingers through the mulch layer and into the soil below. The ground should feel cool and damp, but not wet and soggy. Ground too boggy? You have a couple of options. Option one: improved drainage might help direct rainwater away from the area. Option two: relocate your azalea/s to a more suitable part of the yard, as suggested above.
7. Too much shade. Azaleas do well in semi-shade locations. Indeed, they require a certain amount of shade to thrive. However, deep shade means smaller, leggier plants and fewer blooms.
Solution: Prune surrounding trees and shrubs to let some light in. Once again, you could always relocate the plants. Either option means a fair bit of grunt work. (A test of your grit and determination, perhaps?) Lazy gardener's option: give up on your failing azaleas and start over with some new ones, planted in a more favorable spot.
8. Too much sun. While too much shade is undesirable, so is too much sun and wind. It stresses the plant and makes bug infestation more likely. Azaleas infested with bugs, such as lacewing, may not bloom so well come Spring.
Solution: Here we go again -- back to the same options as in 7, above. You can relocate, or you can take the easy (but more expensive) way out and start over with new plants. You can't always beat Mother Nature.
9. Needs fertilizer. A soil test kit, or a test conducted by someone from your county extension office, can help you determine if your soil is too poor to provide adequate nutrients for your azaleas. The appearance of the plant might tell you something is amiss. Poorly-fed azaleas may display stunted growth. They may also have yellowish leaves.
Solution: Sprinkle fertilizer developed specifically for azaleas around your plants. Note that the best time to fertilize is not, as you might think, in spring (to "help" them bloom). Instead, fertilize in late spring or early summer, when blooming is over for the year.
10. Too much fertilizer. Because azaleas are pretty tough, you can do as much harm over-fertilizing as under-fertilizing. An excess of plant food might sound like a good idea, but can actually lead to bug infestations.
Solution: Let's end this list with the easiest tip of all: do nothing! Despite what the garden centers and certain gardening books might tell you, you don't need to be constantly applying chemicals to your yard. A little benign neglect may be just what your azaleas need.
Hope you found these tips helpful. Happy gardening!