The Flame Azalea Shrubs Are Easy Plants to Grow in Shade

Most gardeners consider the azalea shrub as an easy plant to grow, if located in the most suitable environment. Azaleas can be divided into two recognizable groups, the evergreen azalea and the deciduous azalea, which drops all of its leaves in the fall during cold weather. Most deciduous azaleas grown in an ornamental garden are native plants of the American forests, and the group consists of approximately 16 species that vary in color from: white, pink, yellow, red and bi color.

Deciduous azaleas are native plants (16 species) to America and many other azalea species have originated in oriental foreign countries such as Japan and China. William Bartram first described the flame azalea in 1773 and recorded his observations in his famous book, Travels, when he explored the Southeastern U.S with his father John Bartram, both being natives of Philadelphia, Pa. William Bartram described the flame azalea in full bloom at the banks of the “Chata Uche River”, page 45, “was just ready to open its fragrant blossoms, and the gay azalea also preparing to expand its beauties” . Bartram wrote page 321, “The fiery Azalea, flaming on the ascending hills or wavy surface of the gliding brooks.” He further said that the name, “ fiery”, best expressed the appearance of the azalea flowers. Bartram described the colors of flame azaleas; “the colour of the finest red lead, orange and bright gold, as well as yellow and cream colour.” Bartram stated that every one of these colors could sometimes be found flowering on a single plant. Bartram vividly described the beauty of these virgin primitive plantings in the original forests of America. He wrote “ the clusters of the blossoms cover the shrubs in such incredible profusion on the hill sides, that suddenly opening to view from dark shades, we are alarmed with the apprehension of the hill being set on fire. This is certainly the most gay and brilliant flowering shrub yet known.....the plant exhibits a greater show of splendor.”

Evergreen azalea plants also drop their leaves, appearing to be evergreen, but they actually grow two sets of leaves simultaneously, dropping a few leaves in the fall. The azalea shrub is a shallow rooted plant, and it is one of those rare shrubs that can flourish when planted beneath the shade of pine trees. The aggressive root and extensive coverage of the underground surface of pine tree roots is dense and presents a difficult growing medium for most other companion plants to co-exist. Camellia flowering shrubs and dogwood flowering trees manage to grow well under pine trees as successfully as the azalea shrub. The filtered light of the pine tree is perfect for growing attractive spring flowering azaleas, camellias and flowering dogwood trees. Pine trees also thrive and grow well in acidic soils, having a soil pH of 5.5 or less that is also ideal for growing the azalea shrub.

Azalea shrubs rarely need any supplemental fertilizing. The shallow fibrous roots of the azalea shrub can be severely burned by fertilizer if overdone. Over fertilizing could result in root rot and lead to the eventual death of the plant. Shade tree leaves placed around the base of the azalea shrub will decay and release natural essential fertilizer elements and absorb the activated minerals to be taken up by the roots. Most nursery growers report that more azalea shrubs are damaged or killed by kindness than by negligent treatment.

Polls taken for the most popular flowering shrubs in the South would show that it is a tossup between the azalea or the camellia. For the deep South the Formosa azalea is the garden rage for spring flowering shrubs. The Formosa azalea flowers completely cover the entire bush at the full flowering zenith, and individually the flowers are very large and colorful. Formosa azaleas are commonly planted in long rows at the borders of city parks, to function as privacy borders or for indicating the property boundaries. Most homeowners plant Formosa azaleas in small groups surrounding pine trees. The ultimate height of a Formosa azalea is 8 feet, and it is recommended that these shrubs should not be planted beneath a residential window, that would inevitably have the outside views blocked out. The 'Gumpo' azalea from the Satsuki hybrid group is recommended for planting beneath a window and occasionally is recommended for taller windowsills, “Hershey Red” and Coral Bells from the Karume hybrid group are often used azalea shrubs, since they only grow to approximately four feet tall and four feet wide.

Azaleas are heavily inventoried and stocked at retail garden nursery centers in the spring when flowering season crests, and individual azaleas shrubs can be selected by color with an assurance of a correct identification for those collectors or plant designers who like to view and experience the azalea flower placement in the garden as soon and long as possible while the azaleas are in bloom.

Garden designers, garden writers and garden magazine editors often have preconceived visions of what azalea flower color combinations are viewed to be socially acceptable to use and should be properly endorsed by their own expertise. One National garden magazine editor's mindset has adamantly advised and cautioned his readers to plant azalea groupings of only one color. This robotic bias is laughable and expresses his boredom with his job, and that he has nothing more interesting left to say, except to unwittingly influence his readers to follow his unshakable recommendations on color design and to think seriously about conforming to his own exclusivity and dogma demanded by his garden editorial status.

Azalea shrub selection and planting is best done in the spring while the plants are in flower, but fall planting will be satisfactory in most cases. The azalea plant is not easily transplanted from one garden spot to another, and gardeners are advised to plant containerized azaleas for fast growing and to achieve the best survival results. A planting hole should be dug slightly wider than the container holding the azalea, but the plant should not be placed in poorly drained soil and should not sit below the level of the soil, but should rise a couple of inches above the soil line. If azaleas are planted below the soil line they will usually drown out and die.

Azaleas will not live long, if they are planted in full sun but will thrive when planted underneath the partial shade of pine trees or shade trees. If the leaves show signs of wilting after planting, a bit of watering will correct a problem of drying out, and the azalea shrub can be checked weekly after planting during the first summer. Over watering and over fertilizing appear to be the greatest dangers for killing newly purchased azalea plants during the first growing season. Azalea shrubs are easy to grow in most locations, and after planting these shrubs in the garden leave them alone for best results.