Despite summer temperatures that frequently exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit and native alkaline soils, with proper care, you can still enjoy their blooms spring, summer and fall. Here are some tips.
Encore Azaleas perform best in full sun to partial shade. A minimum of four to six hours of direct sunlight per day is required for proper blooms. Care must be taken to prevent exposure to drought or other heat-related stress conditions associated with full sun exposure. Encore Azaleas are versatile and will adapt in a partial shade situation, preferably afternoon shade. However, too shady an area may result in skipped or significantly reduced bloom cycles.
Encore Azaleas fare well in a site that faces north or east. The best sites are wooded and located next to a building, which affords ample morning light while protecting the shrubs from harsh afternoon sun.
The heavy clay, alkaline soils in northern Texas require some soil preparation to successfully cultivate azaleas, so some groundwork is necessary prior to planting. Since drainage is critical and some sites are occasionally flooded by heavy spring rains, raise the beds about 15 inches above the existing grade. (Fifteen inches is the normally recommended depth.)
Start by tilling lightly into the existing soil, and then add equal parts of fine pine bark, expanded shale, Canadian sphagnum peat moss, and sharp sand. (Play sand is not conducive to landscape use.) Till during the addition of the amendments to ensure that some of the native soil is included.
It is best to lower the pH of the planting beds by using both acidic ingredients (pine bark mulch and Canadian sphagnum peat moss) and adding sulfur. Azaleas are acid-loving plants, so optimum pH levels in the soils should be between 5.5 and 6.5.
A pound and a half of sulfur per 100 square feet can lower the pH by half a point. Sandy soils need less (.5 lbs. / 100 sq. ft.) and heavy clays need more (2.5 lbs. / 100 sq. ft.). One suggestion is to use 2 lbs. / 100 sq. ft. and thoroughly till this into the mix.
Once the beds are prepared, let the mix settle for about two weeks before planting. This helps ensure that the root balls of the new plants will not be exposed as the soil settles. Add an inch or two of pine mulch as top dressing after planting. Be aware that too much additional pine mulch will bury the azaleas’ roots too deep and will hurt the plant.
Dig a hole twice as wide as it is deep. Remove your Encore Azalea from its container and carefully but firmly loosen the root ball. Set the plant into the hole you have prepared, making sure the top of the root ball is above the soil level. Pull your soil around the plant, water thoroughly and cover with mulch.
Watering & Fertilizing
Water your Encore Azalea well when first planted, and keep the soil moist until winter. New azaleas will die quickly if the soil dries excessively. Your new Encore Azalea should not need regular watering after the first year unless there are periods of excessive drought. Fertilize with the recommended levels of azalea feed soon after planting. Do not fertilize after August.
Encore Azaleas require very little pruning to retain good form and do not need “dead-heading.” If you think your Encore Azalea needs pruning, do so immediately after the spring flowering for maximum bud set. Prune tall shoots back inside the body of the plant. Light pruning of more established plants will stimulate growth and flowering.
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