In DeKalb County, azalea blossoms provide an assortment of spring colors that bring a sense of joy and amazement as we admire the true elegance of nature.

Carefully consider good planting sites for azaleas. Select a place with light to moderate shade. Azaleas receiving some shade in the winter usually suffer less cold damage and during hot weather the flowers last longer.

Late blooming varieties need to be in partial shade to prevent sunscald of the flowers. Pine trees with moderate filtered shade give ideal protection. However, heavy shade throughout the day may reduce flower production and result in weak growth. Evergreen trees or tall shrubs with low branches make good windbreaks and attractive backgrounds for an azalea planting. Shallow-rooted trees, such as oaks, elms and maples, may compete with azaleas for moisture and nutrients.

Soil conditions should also be considered when selecting a planting site. Be sure to check the soil pH of the planned site before buying plants. Azaleas require an acid soil pH of 5.5 to grow properly. The reason this shrub will grow in acid soil is because iron is more available. Iron in the soil may become unavailable to plants if the pH is higher than 5.9.

When buying azalea plants be sure they have a good branching system. Never purchase plants with weak, spindling growth. This usually means the plant has a poor root system or that plants were grown too closely together in the nursery. The best size to buy is 12 to 16 inches tall. Smaller plants are more likely to be injured by cold weather. Also, the ability of some azalea varieties to withstand cold weather is an important selection factor.

Azaleas are usually brought as container-grown plants. They are sometimes pot-bound. This means they have a mass of roots growing around the outside ball of soil. If newly purchased plants are pot bound after being removed from their containers, it is required to massage the root ball to loosen roots. Always, pull some of the roots out and away from the bottom of the root ball before planting.

Azaleas can be planted anytime of the year if proper attention is given to providing adequate water. It is critical to keep them watered in the summer. Most people purchase azaleas in the spring when plants are blooming so, they can choose the right color combinations. However, fall is the ideal time to plant this shrub, so it can have more time to become well-established before hot weather.

I hope this information will be useful in your home beautification project.

Terry Shackelford is a regional extension agent in DeKalb County. His column appears Tuesdays in the Times-Journal.

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