Azaleas in bloom – our local Tallahassee sign that spring is here. The bursts of red, white and pink are often a splash of color under or around trees, taking advantage of much-needed shade. While new varieties offer new colors and bloom seasons, the best practices on planting, pruning and general care remain the same. Let’s explore how to have the healthiest and happiest (more blooms) azaleas in your Tallahassee neighborhood!
Azaleas Thrive in Companion Planting with Trees
While some of the new varieties of azalea have more sun tolerance, many favorites are what our parents and their parents planted – shade-loving shrubs. A classic southern location for azaleas is under the shade of larger trees, gathered in groups or planted as a surround for the tree trunks. Whether the tradition of pairing shade trees and azaleas sprung from practicality or whimsy, the results provide a perfect balance for your spring bloomers.
When planning where to plant azaleas, be sure to measure back at least 10 feet from tree trunks. Planting closer to the trunk creates competition for nutrients and water between the tree and new shrubs. As the roots grow on both azaleas and trees, the risk of root binding is another reason to give each their own zone.
#1: Plant azaleas 10 feet away from tree trunks.
Pines and Oaks are an Azalea’s Best Friend
Azaleas like acidic soil and prefer indirect light. Pine and oak trees are both tall with varying amounts of foliage throughout their canopies and limbs. The pH from pine needles and oak tannins combined with dappled lighting provide azaleas close to perfect conditions for growing. Tip: Avoid planting azaleas near black walnut trees. Exposure to juglone, a compound specific to the walnut family, is toxic to many plants. Azaleas struggle when planted within the dripline of a black walnut tree.
#2: Pines, oaks and azaleas are happy companions.
Azaleas are Thirsty – but Tolerant
In the first year of planting, azaleas need two good soakings a week during warm weather, three times a week in drought conditions. Azaleas like to get their roots wet, but they do not like soggy ground. Most of our Tallahassee-area yards have enough sand in the soil that drainage is not an issue. After the first year, azaleas are drought tolerant – look for signs of stress and water appropriately during long dry spells to keep them thriving. Tip: Azaleas need about an inch of water a week after the first year.
#3: Keep your azaleas moist under mulch, but not soggy.
How Proper Pruning of Azaleas is Different
Azalea blooms appear on old wood – meaning they need to be pruned right after the blooming season ends. Not mid-summer, and not in the fall like so many other plants. By that time, next year’s blooms have already set on the stems from spring. Pruning later in the year won’t damage the azalea, but you will not have blooms the next year.
#4: Prune azaleas after blooming season ends.
Azaleas Like to Breathe
Azaleas are like other shrubs and trees in the fact that air circulation through the branches is healthier. Ideally, there are no branches rubbing against each other or dead limbs attracting pests. If there are a few overgrown limbs and smaller shoots that need to be pruned, a handheld bypass pruner works great on live wood, helping to tidy up the shape of your azaleas. TIP: Use loppers for wood thicker than a half-inch.
#5: Tidy up crowded areas and remove dead limbs.
What to do When Your Azalea is having a Bad Hair Day
If your once-shapely azaleas look like they stuck a limb in the closest outdoor outlet, partial prunes are the way to go. This is necessary when some branches have shot up or outwards from the main shrub, causing potential rubbing or breakage issues. It’s best to grab your longer-handled loppers so you can easily prune the wayward branches 6 to 12 inches up from the ground. Try to prune at a natural point on the branch, leaving some leaves on the shoot. Plan on cutting back a third of the azalea for three consecutive years to have all newer wood and a healthier shrub. NOTE: Because you are cutting a live branch back so far, this prune should take place in winter.
#6: To bring wayward azaleas back to shape, trim one-third of the branches back for three years.
Your Azaleas Need a Total Makeover
Azaleas left on their own will grow to the size their cultivar and conditions allow. When partial pruning is not enough, the alternative is to cut the whole shrub back to 12 inches above the ground. Known as rejuvenation pruning, this more drastic measure will leave a hole in your landscaping, with no blooms the following year. Plan for rejuvenation pruning to occur in late winter, which means January and February are your best months in Tallahassee. The azalea will branch back out, setting buds in late spring for the next year.
#7: Rejuvenation pruning helps overgrown and scraggly azaleas back into shape.
When it is Time to Plant Anew
Azaleas are part of the Rhododendron family, originating in parts of China and Japan. A Chinese province claims having a 262-year-old azalea with a 28-inch diameter trunk! Azaleas can live 25 years in well-maintained landscapes, with some making it 35 to 50 years in optimal conditions.
If you have tried rejuvenation pruning without good results, it may be due to the age of the azaleas. If they have reached the end of their growing years, think of this as an opportunity to refresh the soil and plan the exact colors and placement you’ve always wanted for your azalea landscape!
#7: Azaleas thrive for an average of 25-35 years in well-maintained landscapes.
Azaleas are a Tallahassee favorite whether planted in the shade of your trees or as a hedge along your fence. The newer repeat bloom and evergreen varieties open opportunities to add azaleas to areas previously too sunny. But we’ll always be partial to the charm of azaleas in full bloom under the shade of southern oaks.
At Miller’s Tree Service, we often help our clients with the care of their azaleas, trimming and fertilizing or removing old shrubs to make way for new plants.
Our certified arborists can answer your questions about azaleas, crape myrtles and more while on-site. Contact us online here or call 850.894.TREE (8733) to schedule an arborist assessment. As a locally owned Tallahassee business, we are invested in keeping Tallahassee trees looking their best!