The changing of the seasons is our cue to begin preparing our landscapes for the cooler weather that accompanies shorter daylight hours. For many Encore® Azalea gardeners, the threat of frost and freezing temperatures is rarely considered. However, it is always good practice to clean up plants and their beds each autumn. Remember, a little preparation goes a long way in maintaining vibrant, healthy azaleas year round. Here are some tips for mulching your azaleas as temperatures drop.
As daylight decreases and fall flowers fade, your Encore® Azaleas will begin to shut down for a period of rest –at least above ground. Below ground the roots continue to grow, pulling moisture and nutrients from the soil.
By now, the organic mulch you put around the flowerbeds this past summer has been processed into compost. Encore® Azaleas have relatively shallow roots and need about 3-inches of organic material on top of the soil to preserve moisture and protect tender roots from freezing.
The material used for mulches should be locally sourced, if possible. Pine bark nuggets are readily available in states where pine tree logging is common. Pine needles may also be used. These both add a bit of acidity to the soil as they break down over the winter, which is optimal for azaleas.
If your soil is sandy, add compost and shredded leaves from your own compost pile. This will ensure your soil holds more moisture. If you have clay soil and your Encore® Azaleas were planted in raised beds to protect the roots from rotting, the plants still need mulch on top of the soil.
The recommended amount of mulch is 2 to 3 inches. In this case, more is not better. Just as standing water will oxygen starve plant roots; a thick stack of mulch may also prevent the roots from breathing.
Location is key when mulching your Encore® Azaleas. Never allow the mulch to have contact with the lower branches and plant stems.
Pour the mulch out of the bag or wheelbarrow, and then rake it back – approximately 5-inches away from the plant. Over the winter, many insects and rodents search for places to nest, and if they choose a mulch pile next to plant stems, they will chew into the plant for food and to lay eggs.
In addition to being an ideal time for preparation and sprucing up, fall is also ideal for adding more Encore® Azaleas to your landscape – ensuring they grow deep roots over the winter and provide a beautiful show beginning in the spring.