By Mary-Kate Mackey
Encore®Azaleas are tough. They are sturdy. They can take a lot that nature and garden conditions throw at them. But sometimes they don’t live up to expectations. You can help them gain their full potential with certain observational strategies.
All plants, when their needs aren’t met, get stressed. They conserve their energy, perhaps by wilting, or dropping leaves, or losing a branch. They’re more vulnerable to opportunistic predators, and many will put out fewer blossoms. If your Encores are showing any of these signs, use this checklist to discover the stressor and make a fix.
Sunlight– Encore®Azaleas appreciate more sunlight than other azaleas. On the West Coast, this varies from more than 8 hours of full sun in areas with ocean influence, to 6 hours or less of morning sun in the hotter inland locations. Too much shade will affect their ability to bloom and rebloom. On the other hand, they won’t do their best if they’re baking hot all day.
Soil– Encores need soil that holds water, but drains well. In sandy ground, Encores can dry out too fast. Liberal amounts of organic matter will boost the moisture levels. However, in heavy clay, Encores can struggle with too much water around their roots. Also, if the surrounding soil is much heavier than what came in their containers, the roots may not venture out. It’s as if they’re pot bound even though they’re planted. That could affect bloom. Consider growing them in free-draining raised berms or large containers.
Water – Encores need regular water. That means a steady supply, not a hit or miss pass with the hose. The amount you water will vary, depending on the weather conditions. If you’re moving a sprinkler around your garden in dry weather, or if you have in-ground sprinklers on a timer, add days or length of time. A plastic rain gauge inserted near your Encores will tell you how much is being delivered. Or arrange a simple drip setup that can be placed on a timer at a hose bib, so the soil at their roots never goes completely dry.
Mulch – Always keep a water-conserving mulch around them. The mulch can dry out, but the soil underneath should remain cool and moist. Two inches of any organic matter works well. Don’t allow it to pile up against the stems.
Food – Encores do well on acid-type fertilizers, the kind used for blueberries and rhododendrons. However, high-nitrogen fertilizers will encourage leaf growth at the expense of flowers. Choose lower-numbered organic fertilizers, with the middle and end number higher than the first, such as 3-5-4.
Youth – Encore®Azaleas come in two sizes. Dwarf will grow 2- to 3-feet tall and intermediate will mature at 4- to 5-feet. The smaller ones like Autumn Lilac™and Autumn Ivory™tend to flower more profusely at a younger age. If the larger ones like Autumn Lily™and Autumn Jewel™for example, haven’t reached their flowering capabilities the first season, be patient. The intermediates seem to want to create their structure before they’ll give that full burst of glory. But with their needs met, all Encore®Azaleas will produce a great show, for many seasons to come.