Les Hodge | Blooms aplenty for acid-loving azaleas

MANY TALENTS: The azalea works as a stunning border plant or as a backdrop and will thrive in a container with massed colour.

MANY TALENTS: The azalea works as a stunning border plant or as a backdrop and will thrive in a container with massed colour.

No other group of shrubs can offer such a wealth of blooms in a variety of brilliant colours for gardens with acidic soils than the multi-talented azaleas. 

An azalea is one of the most spectacular plants you can grow in a container, for its superb beauty when massed with flowers in shades of red, pink, salmon, violet or white is unsurpassed.   

Drifts also look magnificent in bushland settings especially when planted on shaded banks under eucalypt trees. 

The smaller compact-growing types of Indicas, Gumpo and Kurme are best-suited for front row or border plantings as they can be kept to about 50 to 70 centimetres high by clipping immediately after flowering.  

Larger-growing varieties reach up to one metre high and wide. There are many newer cultivars that are quite sun-hardy and are suited to the open garden where they can be used as a backdrop to lower-growing plants. 

Mollis hybrids can also be used in the same way, especially the Knap Hill and Exbury varieties which grow into large plants.

With plenty of sunlight they provide beautiful colours from yellow right through to orange and tangerine and bright pink.

Plant in a lightly-shaded position or full sun for half-a-day with shade in the early afternoon. Azaleas are surface-rooting plants and should not be planted any deeper than the soil surface of the container.

If I find potted azaleas very root-bound I hose off all the potting mix then gently tease out the constricted roots, plant and tamp the soil firmly around them.

Next, give a good watering to remove any air pockets - just the same as you would plant a bare-rooted rose.

After planting apply a light mulch to ensure a cool, moist root run. 

The roots, although fine in texture, grow very quickly in pots and the open garden, so care must be taken to give sufficient deep waterings in the warmer months especially for the established plants. 

Don’t feed until after they have finished flowering then feed with a specific fertiliser for azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias or well-rotted compost, Dynamic Lifter or blood and bone. 

A light trim after the spring flush of flowers has finished, and just before the new growth starts, will keep plants in a nice shape.  

If you need to move an azalea the ideal time is winter or early spring before the new growth. 

Low-growing azalea branches that come into contact with the soil can sometimes layer themselves by putting on roots to form a new plant. When established cut off new plant growth and pot up.

Azaleas can sometimes be affected by petal blight which is seen as light brown- or white-coloured circular spots on the petals. 

These spots spread from irregular blotches until the flower collapses and becomes a slimy mess.

If noticed, pinch off infected flowers and destroy.  

Avoid overhead watering and if the problem is widespread, spray plants with a suitable fungicide to control. 

The fungus is more prevalent in damp conditions and poorly-drained soils and over-winters as rusting spores on the dead flowers where it waits to attack in spring. 

DIARY

August 15: The Australian Plant Society meets at the Max Fry Hall on Gorge Rd, Trevallyn at 7.30pm. Visitors welcome. For more information visit www.apstasnorth.org

August 16: The Launceston Horticultural Society meets at Windmill Hill Hall, High Street, Launceston at 8pm. Visitors welcome. Supper is provided.  

August 17:  The Launceston Orchid Society meets at the Newnham Uniting Church Hall, George Town Road, Launceston at 7pm. New members welcome.

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