GAM BLOG: Amazing Azaleas


Amazing Azaleas

Ensuring your azalea flourishes in

Susan Smiley

Anyone watching The
Masters can’t help but notice the spectacular azalea bushes decorating Augusta
National. Their beauty has inspired many a Michigan golf fan to plant azaleas
in their own flower bed often with disappointing results.

Horticulturist Linda
Backers of Ray Wiegand’s Nursery in Macomb cautions that while azaleas are
glorious when in bloom, they can be very high maintenance. The tough Michigan
winters and tendency for the soil here to be non-acidic and wet can make
growing azaleas very challenging.

“They are very temperamental,”
says Backers. “The two main things are that they need to be wind protected –
especially in the winter because it dries out the leaves — and they do not
like wet soil.”

The first step to a
healthy azalea is picking the proper planting location. The north or east side
of the house is best because the azalea is protected from the west wind.

“You can also protect
your azaleas from the winter by using Wilt-Pruf spray in October which helps
protect the leaves from drying out,” says Backers. “But a winter like we just
had, that probably won’t be enough. So you can also use a burlap screen or dead
Christmas trees to create a barrier around the plant and give it protection
from the wind.”




The other thing that
makes growing azaleas in Michigan problematic is our soil. Much of Michigan’s
soil tends to have clay which tends to be very wet which azaleas dislike. True
that Georgia also is known for its “red Georgia clay” soil but not all clay is

“Down south they have
very acidic soil which is ideal for azaleas,” says Backers. “Although they also
tend to have a lot of clay, Michigan soil tends to have a much higher PH

The best thing to do,
according to Backers, is to amend the soil before planting your azalea: add
ground bark with sand and top soil to the existing soil. A sandy soil
conditioner mixed with top soil is also good. If your azalea is already
planted, there are still some things you can do to foster its health.

“If your azalea is
already planted you can use something organic like Holly-Tone Espoma or Acid Lovers
fertilizer from Dr. Earth,” says Backers. “You mix it into the soil April 30,
June 30 and Oct. 30. And make sure your azalea is mulched well. You want to put
a good layer of mulch down every spring and fall to cover the roots.”

Granted, azaleas
require some extra attention but for those who admire their splendor, doing a
little more work is worth the effort.


“We do sell a lot of them and they are beautiful
when they bloom,” says Backers. “They are so magnificent. In the right location
and with a little extra care they can be grown in Michigan and can be very