Azaleas are always a springtime favorite, although they can be difficult to grow in Oklahoma. Here are Loretta Aaron’s tips on growing these beautiful shrubs for a great springtime show.
•What variety do I choose?
Azaleas in bud and bloom will soon be in good supply at garden centers. There was a time not too many years ago when azaleas were considered as plants for the Deep South only. Now there are some varieties that do well in this area.
There are both deciduous and evergreen varieties. Always an old dependable one is the family of Kurume, which comes in several colors. A newer one, also proven to do well, is Girard family. “Hot Shot” in the Girard is a pretty orange, while “Cathy” is a pristine white.
•Where and how do I plant them?
Azaleas will not grow in full sun in tight clay soil. They will do well in full shade, morning sun or filtered sunlight. Prepare the area before planting. Soil must be loose, well drained, and slightly acid. Addition of sphagnum peat moss will take care of the acidity. The plants must have perfect drainage. If drainage is a problem, raise the area slightly.
Plants must never be allowed to dry out. Mulch with pecan hulls to conserve moisture. Those who have visited the famed azalea gardens in Muskogee may have noticed that the shrubs were mulched with pecan hulls. This helps with good drainage and renders the soil slightly acid. With good drainage and never being allowed to dry out, azaleas can be grown quite successfully in our area.
If you notice your azalea foliage becomes slightly yellow this summer, the problem might be a soil with too much alkaline. Then would be a good time to apply a high-acid fertilizer to the plants. Simply follow the package directions as to the amount to use on the plants. To acidify the soil, iron sulphate will do the job quickly and cause the green foliage to return.
For 21 years, Loretta Aaron, an Oklahoma City gardening expert, was a beloved and well-known gardening columnist for The Oklahoman. Loretta died in 2009. With the permission of Loretta’s family, we will reprint some of Loretta’s words of gardening wisdom.