Barren grounds with withering plant life can be transformed into a decorative expanse composed of a perfect balance of plants, trees and flowers laid out in rich color schemes that command the senses.
With imaginative designing, illusions of tropical paradises, mystical lands or even heaven itself can be created and experienced by all who enter the landscaped areas. A top priority for achieving this phenomenon is the selection of plant life.
Azaleas are flowers that grow on bushes belonging to the class of plants called rhododendrons, which consist of a variety of trees and shrubs. Azalea bushes are smaller in size than other plants in this class and azalea flowers bloom in an assortment of colors.
There’s the yellow azalea, the white azalea and azalea flowers of other colors such as orange, pink, purple and red.
There are two types of rhododendrons:
- Evergreens, which stay green all year, are called Rhododendron Tsutsusi
- The deciduous class, that lose their leaves in the fall and lay dormant in the winter, are called Rhododendron Pentanthera.
Azaleas are in the deciduous class.
The word “azalea” is derived from the Greek word “azaleos” meaning “dry”. Besides being the name of the flower, it’s also a female name that has been used in India, Arabia, Greece and in English-speaking countries.
An interesting fact is when azaleas are received, there’s a phrase that’s related to them that the giver may be saying to the receiver: “Take care of yourself for me”.
Azaleas come from Japan and China, and are now common in the United States. However, there’s a genetic similarity between all azaleas no matter where there habitats may be and they’ve successfully evolved over time sustaining their uniqueness while the world around them has continually changed.
Description and Characteristics
There are numerous varieties of azalea plants:
- the azalea formosa (Formosa Azalea), blooms twice a year in the spring and fall with 3-inch lavender blossoms that eventually turn a deep pink or a magenta hue;
- the azalea bonsai is a tree or shrub that’s grown in a pot and it requires shade and rainwater for optimal growth;
- the easter morn azalea grows to approximately four feet tall and spreads about five feet wide with 2-inch lavender flowers, and blooms in spring;
- The shrub of the dwarf azalea can grow 2 – 3 feet high displaying crimson flowers in early spring and lively red foliage during the winter;
- wild azalea is a deciduous shrub which grows in the woods and flat grasslands between March and May. It attracts bees, butterflies and hummingbirds;
- the medium and larger bushes of the encore azaleas come in a variety of colors and sizes, and are perfectly suited for hedges that separate or define the lines of properties;
- azalea tenino are low-maintenance azalea bushes that grow approximately 1 foot tall and 3 feet wide. The flowers are 3 inches wide and they bloom between mid- to late-spring in colors of purple and red;
- for a vibrant lawn or yard, planting and nurturing a red azalea bush will add scenic beauty to any surrounding. With little maintenance, this plant will display an abundance of rich, luxurious color year after year.
Azaleas symbolize temperance, passion, and it’s the Chinese symbol of womanhood and fragility.
Cultivation and Care
Azaleas must be well watered and they require at least four hours a day of direct sunlight, preferably in the early part of the day to avoid the direct rays of the midday sun that can burn the leaves. If there’s concern over how not to prune azaleas and when to prune azaleas, it’s highly advised not to prune azaleas while they’re blooming.
Pruning should be done after the flowers have bloomed, perhaps in the mid-winter when the bush is dormant. Azaleas bloom between March and August and some gardeners advise to prune every one or two years. When pruning azaleas, take care not to cut azalea bushes down more than one-third the size of the entire plant and strive to cut in a circular pattern.
However, since there’s the possibility of cutting off the next year’s blooms and ending up with bushes that don’t bloom for the next couple of years, some say it’s best not to prune an existing bush, insisting that healthy bushes will manage well enough on their own.
The best setting for azaleas is in moderate climates in soil that’s well drained and slightly acidic with a pH factor of 5.5. Provisions should be made to protect azaleas from the harmful effects of cold and wind.
Azaleas should be planted in the spring or fall. While they require frequent watering, gardeners should understand the difference between moist soil and water-logged soil. Moist soil is needed when growing azalea but be sure that the soil is drained of water, NOT water-logged.
If the soil is soggy with water, the roots will drown and the bush will be destroyed.The proper care of azaleas includes spreading a layer of compost under the entire width of the plant. Compost is a mixture of decomposing vegetable matter used for fertilizing azaleas.
Then put a layer of mulch, which could be dried leaves and pine needles, on top of the compost; it should be approximately two inches high and kept about an inch away from the trunk. The pine needles will help to maintain the acidic level in the soil.
Diseases and Pests
Although azaleas are generally healthy, robust plants, they have a potential for attracting pests and contracting disease. Indoor and outdoor azaleas are prone to fungal infections with the most notable of azalea diseases being leaf gall that happens to the leaves, and root rot that happens in the soil.
Each of these cases can be treated with fertilizers and fungicides. In many cases, pruning or hand-picking the affected leaves from the bushes can also work. Caterpillars, bugs, flies and weevils can be controlled with the limited use of pesticides.
Planting and Transplanting Azaleas
The gardener who decides to grow azaleas using seeds will need considerable patience as, depending on the type of azalea bush, it takes anywhere from 2 – 10 years for the first bloom to appear. Instead, the most common way for planting azaleas is to purchase existing bushes from nurseries and eventually transplant them into gardens and yards. Planting and transplanting azaleas should be done in early spring or early fall and the results are better when transplanting smaller bushes rather than larger ones.
Because of their small size and assortment of colors, azaleas make superb house plants. Many wives and mothers have been the recipients of luxurious azalea potted plants as gifts on holidays such as Easter and Mother’s Day.
However, they’re also wonderful as ornamental plants adding color and beauty to outdoor lawns, providing excitement with the warm colors of red, yellow, white and orange flowers, and relaxation through the cooler colors of the purple flowers and the green shrubbery.
At first glance, the advice and information given when researching and studying about the care of azaleas may appear to be contradictory. For instance, some say that azaleas require a certain amount of direct sunlight while others insist that these bushes thrive better in partially shaded areas.
Also, to prune or not to prune remains to be seen. However, treatment and care differs for the many varieties of this plant. As with most situations, experience is the best teacher.
After doing a well-rounded search for information and sorting out the common basics for cultivating specific azalea plants and bushes, then all grey areas can be cleared up by observing the results while caring for these bushes. A lot can be learned from success and failure and all things new are a challenge, so take a deep breath and jump in!
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