Azaleas - growing, planting, pruning, fertilizing, propagating

Rhododendronsand azaleas belong to the plant genus Rhododendron which is part of the heath family (Ericaceae). All members of this family including heaths, heathers, blueberries, mountain laurels and several others require acid soil, consistent moisture, and good drainage.

Purple Spectacular ReBLOOM
Most Rhododendrons and Azaleas were originally from the Himalayan Mountains, western China and northern India. Only few are native to Japan, Europe and the U.S.

Each year during the month of April, Ray Wright of Green Country Landscaping sells Muskogee-grown Azaleas at Honor Heights Park.

 “My primary business is commercial and residential landscaping and irrigation but we grow thousands of Azaleas every year,” said Wright. “We grow shrubs and bedding plants for our jobs and then we sell some at Honor Heights Park and at the spring festivals.”

Green Country’s Azaleas are all grown from cuttings at their Muskogee greenhouses. Wright said he sells 50-varieties but most of them are hardy Karume, Girard and Poukhanense.

Karume hybrids from Japanese stock grow 4-to-6-feet tall and wide, and have 1-inch leaves. Girard hybrids are an improved cold-hardy variety. They have lustrous leaves, large flowers and hardiness to -15F (zone 5). The flower colors range from white to pink, red and deep orange. 

Poukhanense is a Korean Azalea that slowly matures to 10-feet tall and wide with magenta flowers.

Though he offers a variety of plant sizes, Wright recommended the 3-gallon size as ideal.

The new ReBLOOM™ Azaleas from Greenleaf Nursery’s Garden Debut® collection are bred to be more compact than their standard re-blooming varieties such as Encore and Bloom-A-Thon. ReBLOOM colors include Red Magnificence™, White Nobility™ and Coral Amazement™ this year. Next year will be the official release of additional colors. They are all cold hardy to -10 F (zone 6).

One of Wright's greenhouses
 Wright provided advice for success with Azaleas and has a brochure of tips that is available at their sales area in Honor Heights Park this month.

* Select a planting area with afternoon shade but too much shade will prevent blooming.  Azaleas will succeed near lawn sprinklers where they can receive rain-like watering, 20-minutes at a time, since they thrive in moist well-drained soil.

* You need a $5 hole for a $3 Azalea according to Wright. Local soil is usually sweet clay and has to be amended to be acidic (low pH of 5.0 to 5.5).

* Dig a hole 4-feet wide and 18-inches deep. Mix that soil with baled Canadian peat moss. Plant the Azaleas high so water drains off or sinks down.

* Top the planting area with an acidic mulch of ground pine bark, pecan shells, pine needles or cedar mulch.

* Fertilize Azaleas half-strength now in the spring and at full-strength after the flowers fade. Never fertilize them in the fall.

* Azaleas should be pruned before July 1 by removing branches at the base rather than by shearing them into hedges.

If you have an old plant in your landscape and would like to make a young one in order to continue the lifeline, they are fairly easy to propagate by layering. Peg a low branch to the ground in a trench and cover with good soil. Before pegging, remove all the leaves from the portion of the branch to be buried, leaving one end attached to the mother plant and the other end sticking out of the soil with a few leaves still attached.  In a year, roots will emerge from the leaf nodes where leaves were removed and the branch was buried. Cut it off and plant as recommended.

You can visit Wright at Honor Heights Park or contact him at 918-261-0854.

The Rhododendron Society ( has a database of 400 Azalea hybrids with photos, cold hardiness, mature height, leaf and flower color and size


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