Azaleas are one of my favorite flowering bushes since their bloom time runs from April into July depending on the type, and even longer now with Encore varieties that bloom up until frost. They are nature’s version of a surprise party, one minute they are hiding in the background, the next they pop out with an explosion of color. They are also a bit contrary. Once established they are almost completely care free, but they need extra attention when they’ve just been planted. Few plants offer their range of size, color, and bloom times, but because of this they can sometimes overwhelm a yard with jarring contrast. If you are thinking about adding some azaleas to your yard, here are a few rules to help you with your garden design.
First, decide if you want to plant individual azaleas as specimens, or together in groups. In both instances mature growth size is a big factor since some varieties top out around 12 feet high, so check which varieties will fit best in your area.
Check their bloom time, particularly when planting in groups, and decide if you prefer early, mid, or late bloomers, or a combination of all three. If you like high drama, pick from the same group for a massive show, or time them so as one group begins to fade, another begins.
I love a colorful garden, but when planting azaleas try not to mix too many bright colors together. When using brighter colors, blend them with paler shades or whites to allow a transition that highlights the bright colors. Think of it like framing a piece of art and using a mat to highlight the piece. For every bright section, surround it with a neutral mat.
Azaleas are evergreen or deciduous, so make that a consideration when selecting your plants. If the area you are planting tends to look bleak in the winter, an evergreen variety may be the better pick. When planting together, it’s generally better to stick to the same type. An evergreen azalea mixed in with a deciduous group may draw attention to its neighbors’ lack of leaves in the winter.
Most azaleas prefer a shady environment, which is frequently the part of your yard that could use some attention. Use them strategically to draw the eye to less noticed sections, or to invite someone to wander further into a wooded area. Curves in a garden bed or topographical drops or climbs in your yard can be highlighted by azaleas of the same height and color.
For maximum impact, combine them with other spring blooming bushes or trees. I personally like medium sized spring blooming trees like dogwood or redbud mixed in with them, or trees that add texture like river birch or bloodgood Japanese maples. While you have the spade out, consider mixing in some spring blooming bulbs for a great look.
Finally, here are a few planting tips to help them get started. Azaleas love moisture, but need good drainage or they will develop root rot. When planted, the root ball should be an inch or two above the soil line, and in areas with clay soil your best bet is to create a berm around the root ball. They love mulch over their roots, but keep the first few inches near the base mulch free. Before planting, take a knife and make some cuts into the rootball about an inch, starting from the top, down the side and bottom, then back up the opposite side. It encourages new root growth and keeps the roots from continuing to grow in a ball and strangling itself. Have hope, once they make it through the first two years they are super hardy and drought resistant.