Plant ‘Em High & Dry
By Patricia Striplin, Blue Meadows Farm
Native azaleas have finally bloomed with glorious shades of pink seen on the Piedmont (Rhododendron canescens) followed closely by brilliant shades of yellow to orange on the Florida (R. austrinum). While many Master Gardeners enjoy the tree-like structure of the deciduous azalea, success in site selection, planting and watering is critical for survival particularly for the first three years in your garden. Like the rewards Winter Daphne blooms give, happy Native Azaleas bring spectacular early color and fabulous fragrance even before leaves appear.
Native azaleas prefer up to 4-5 hours of direct sun IF you can water and mulch them, a critical factor for garden adjustment. They need water but won’t tolerate “wet feet” so amend the soil with composted pine bark. Never plant more deeply than the current root ball – in fact, it is better to leave the root ball a finger’s depth higher than the ground level and mulch them well with pine straw or bark, than planting too deeply. Give new plants one inch of water weekly in two applications through summer and dry periods. Fertilize as the buds swell in February and July with an azalea/camellia fertilizer for optimum growth and bloom. If your Native Azalea is not blooming, try fertilizer first, before looking at the other conditions. A word on cold weather and azaleas: Even a zero Fahrenheit temp is fine unless you can see color on the buds, THEN cover the plant for the night. Plant ‘Em High & Dry & Enjoy the Spring!
Native plants have fascinated Patricia Striplin of Blue Meadows Farm since age 9 when she marked blooming natives in her back yard and transplanted them in winter. Her continuing childhood association with Ernest Koone of Garden Delights in Pine Mountain, she calls him Mr. Native Azalea, inspired her to focus her business on Native Plants. Contact her at email@example.com or see her at the regional Master Gardener shows, Savannah’s Historic Exposition and the Cotton Pickin’ Fair.