skip to Main Content

How to care for azaleas today for blooms next spring

Indica Azalea ‘George Lindley Tabor’

By Dr. Bill Barrick, Executive Director

Now that the azaleas have “done their thing,” it is time for you to do your part by getting them ready for next year’s blooming season.

Azaleas in general are pretty maintenance-free plants, but immediately after flowering is a good time to prune, fertilize and re-mulch. Our Southern Indica azaleas can become as “large as Trailway buses,” as my good friend John Floyd, former editor of Southern Living Magazine, used to say.

AzaleaSeason05 082

I can remember when we had a daily paper, Bill Finch would print his “Hall of Shame” of flat-topped and tortured azaleas that had been pruned with hedge shears rather than using hand pruners. Their natural growth habit is loose and only an occasional shaping is necessary. If your azaleas have now dwarfed your house, or if you have a good bit of die-back, rejuvenation pruning may be in order. Over the years, we have done this procedure on some of the older plantings in the Garden. New growth will appear along the stems, and within two to three years their growth will amaze you.

Azalea ‘Pride of Mobile’

Here are a few tips for preparing your azaleas to bloom next year:

  • The rule of thumb of pruning is to never prune past the Fourth of July, or you will miss the bloom for the coming year.
  • Keep in mind that azaleas are shallow rooted, so now is good time to re-mulch or add more pine straw around the base of the plants.
  • It is important to keep azaleas well watered during low rainfall times in the summer.
  • Although azaleas don’t require a lot of fertilizer, after the spring bloom is a good time to fertilize. At Bellingrath, we have used an organic source of nitrogen – cottonseed meal. The advantage of using cottonseed meal is that nitrogen is broken down over time and you won’t have to be concerned with fertilizer burn. The downside is that when wet, cottonseed meal can be quite odoriferous. Local garden centers have granular fertilizers formulated for azaleas. Just follow the directions on the package and make sure to water thoroughly after applying.

Azaleas are indeed the one flower associated with spring in the Deep South, but I remember one of our employees at Callaway Gardens used to say, “I don’t understand all the fuss about azaleas … if I had 50 weeks to look good for two weeks, I’d look pretty good, too.”