Azaleas can thrive in Australian gardens as long as they are grown in the right conditions. Gardeners who choose the right location for their azaleas and take care of them according to the following tips can enjoy these bright flowers year after year.
Where to Plant Azaleas
Azaleas are woodland plants, which means they are happiest when growing under the shade of a large tree. Gardeners should choose a planting site that has partial shade or morning sun if they want their azaleas to thrive.
Preparing the Soil for Azaleas
Azaleas prefer acidic soil. In their natural woodland habitat, the soil has been turned acidic by generations of leaf mulch. Adding mulch is an important part of growing azaleas, but gardeners can also accelerate the acidification of their soil by adding an acidifying tonic or a fertiliser that contains alkaline salts such as ammonium nitrate. Peat moss is also useful for acidifying alkaline soils. A soil pH meter can tell gardeners how acidic or alkaline their soil is; a pH of below 7 is acidic, while a pH between 7 and 14 is alkaline. Between 4.5 and 6.0 is ideal for azaleas, although they will usually survive in a pH as high as 7.
Protecting Azaleas from Drying Out
One of the biggest challenges of growing azaleas is preventing their shallow roots from drying out. Ideally, azaleas like to receive about an inch of rainfall each week. During periods of much lower rainfall, gardeners need to give the plants water to keep the roots moist. The plant will indicate when it needs water by drooping its leaves.
Using Mulch for Growing Azaleas
As well as watering azaleas during dry weather, gardeners can help to protect them from drought by adding mulch to the soil around each plant. The best mulch for azaleas is wood and leaf mulch, as it mimics the plant's natural woodland habitat. This mulch keeps the soil cool and moist, as well as suppressing weed growth.
Using Fertiliser for Growing Azaleas
Gardeners use fertiliser to fuel the growth of young azaleas. Established azaleas can usually manage without fertiliser, as long as the gardener keeps them well supplied with mulch. Azaleas sometimes suffer from chlorosis, which is a lack of iron. A fertiliser that contains ferrous sulphate is a good solution to this problem, which is characterised by yellowing of the azalea leaves, particularly around the veins.
The best time to prune an azalea is in early spring before the plant starts its yearly growth spurt. Gardeners should remove all dead wood before clipping back branches so the bush takes on the desired shape. Sterilising secateurs using alcohol helps to prevent an infection from harming the plant.