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Are Azaleas Hard To Care For In The Middle Part Of The Country?

Lists of planting material for home grounds in eastern and southern states include azaleas or rhododendrons as major elements in landscape development. Here in our area, these plants usually retain their eastern accent and play rather poor parts in our garden programs.

Soil and climatic conditions here are generally not to their liking. However, the belief that they may be grown here successfully is strengthened by the fact that occasionally an old plant is observed that blooms annually and is apparently contented in this region of limestone soils and dry, hot summer winds.

Azalea growing in the Middle-America should not be undertaken by the average gardener who would simply plant and care for the azalea as he would a common hardy shrub. The azalea is too finicky. This is a plant that belongs in the garden of the man who puts gardening ahead of golf or other interests, and is, therefore, willing to cater to its notions.

A few suggestions for those who wish to try azaleas in this area: The evergreen types should be planted where their foliage will have protection from winter sun, such as on the north of the house; deciduous types like an east slope with some protection from the west sun and winds. The bed should be prepared about two feet deep with half the volume of planting medium consisting of peat moss, oak sawdust and leaf mold.

Azaleas are shallow rooted and dry out quickly, so mulch the plants heavily (five to six inches deep) with leaf mold or old sawdust; the heavy mulch of acid material helps to conserve moisture and lessens the need for artificial watering; the average pH of our city water the last two years was 9.5 and with a pH of about 6 needed for azaleas, it becomes evident that the fewer the waterings the easier it will be to maintain an acid soil condition.

However, here where summers are usually hot and dry, careful watering is absolutely essential to the life of the plants. Use water from rain barrels or a pond if possible. Competing tree roots deplete food and moisture and make azaleas unhappy. Lime or wood ashes should not be applied to the bed since they tend to decrease acidity.

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