How To Plant An Azalea, Camellia, Or Rhododendron

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This article provides planting instructions and tips for how to plant an azalea, camellia or rhododendron
by Samantha Steele · Zone 1 · Below -50° F to Zone 6A · -10° to -5° F · Planting · 0 Comments · December 12, 2012 · 18,281 views

Where To Plant Azalea, Camellia and Rhododendron

Azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons are easy to grow and long-lived when planted in the right spot, and when using the right planting techniques to match the spot.

Sun Exposure
When choosing a location to plant most types of azalea, camellia and rhododendron, look for a spot that provides some shade during the hottest part of the day. Morning sun with some afternoon shade is best. Just keep in mind that five to six hours of sun per day is necessary for best bud and flower production. This being said, Encore Azaleas and Southern Indica Azaleas will tolerate much more sun than all other types.

Azalea, camellia, and rhododendron prefer a well-drained, moist, acidic soil that is rich in organic matter. Constantly soggy or wet soil is a killer. To check how your soil drains dig a 12-inch deep by 12-inch wide hole in the planting area and fill it with water. If it takes longer that 12 hours for the hole to completely drain the soil drains poorly and steps will need to be taken to improve drainage or planting in raised beds or mounds is recommended.

Azaleas need an acidic soil with a pH of 5 to 6.5 to thrive. Your local nursery and garden should have testing kits or you can buy soil testing kits online here. Also, you can check with you local Extension Service to see if they provide soil testing services.

How To Plant an Azalea, Camellia or Rhododendron

Azalea Planting Diagram

  • Step 1 - Start by using a shovel or auger to dig a planting hole at least two to three times as wide and no deeper than the rootball. Place soil removed from planting hole around the perimeter of the hole.

  • Step 2 - Depending on the type, fertility and porosity of the soil you are planting in, you might need to add a soil amendment to the native soil removed from the planting hole. When planting in heavy clay soil thoroughly mix in some good organic matter such as composted cow manure, mushroom compost, or a good planting mix at a 50/50 ratio with the clay soil. When planting in very sandy, quick-draining soil you might want to consider adding in some peat moss and or compost to help retain moisture. When planting in fertile, loamy soil you might not need to add any soil amendment.

  • Step 3 - Gently remove your plant from the pot it was growing in. If the root ball is stuck in the pot either cut the container away or place the plant on it's side and pound lightly on the side of the container. This usually helps to loosen the root ball in the container. After having removed the plant from the container, gently loosen some feeder roots around the surface of the root ball. If rootbound, which is v ery common with container-grown azaleas, it may be necessary to give the rootball a good soaking and plunging in a bucket of water to make it easier to see and loosen roots around the exterior surface of the rootball.

  • Step 4 - If you're planting your azalea, camellia and rhododendron in well-drained soil, or a raised bed or mound, set plant into hole so that top of root-ball is level or slightly above the level of the soil surface. If you are planting on level ground, or in areas where the soil holds water for more than 12 hours or so after a rain, set the plant in the planting hole making sure that the top edge of the root ball is several inches above ground level. If necessary, add some of the back-fill soil mixture to the bottom of the hole to achieve proper planting height.

  • Step 5 - Use your hand to begin back-filling your soil mixture around the root ball, tamping as you go to remove air pockets. When you have filled the hole to the halfway point you can soak the soil. Then continue back-filling to the top edge of the root ball tapering your soil mixture gradually to the ground level, essentially creating a slightly raised mound. Do not put any backfill soil on top of the root ball as doing so can suffocate your plant.

  • Step 6 - After planting, deep soak the planting area with water on top of the rootball and around the planting area. It's also a good idea to water the first time with a solution of Root Stimulator, which is available at most nursery and garden centers. Thereafter, in the absence of rainfall, water as needed to keep the rootball and surrounding soil damp to moist, but not constantly soggy or wet, which could lead to root rot.

  • Step 7 - Apply a 2-inch layer of shredded or chipped wood mulch or pine straw around the planting area. More Azaleas die after planting as a result of drowning rather than from under watering!

Other Helpful Tips

  • Water your newly planted azalea, camellia or rhododendron with a solution of Root Stimulator to stimulate early root formation and stronger root development.
  • Fertilize with a granular Azalea, Camellia & Rhododendron fertilizer, acidifying shrub and tree type fertilizer, or an organic shrub food at planting time and again in early fall. Follow instructions on product label for application rates and methods.
  • If your new azalea, camellia or rhododendron has some long branches these can be pruned back to a point an inch or two above the main shape of the shrub.
  • If the leaves of your azalea, camellia or rhododendron turn pale green or light yellow, this could be an indicator that soil is too alkaline. An application of soil sulfur and/or chelated iron will help to acidify the soil and turn foliage dark green.
  • If the leaves of your azalea turn a whiteish to light grey color, this could be an indicator that lacebugs or aphids are sucking chlorophyll from the leaves. Check the undersides of the leaves to see if these critters are present. If so, control these insects with Neem oil or Malathion.

Be sure to check out the links provided below for specific pruning and fertilization tips for azaleas and rhododendron.

Happy Planting!


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