By Allen Owings, Professor Emeritus (Horticulture), LSU AgCenter
In gardening, the importance of the planting process should not be overlooked. A little prior preparation, planning, and observing can go a long way in getting new shrubs successfully established. Here are some guidelines to consider when planting Encore® Azaleas.
Encore® Azaleas love raised beds with plenty of well-drained organic matter. Proper drainage and aeration are keys to success. If your soil is poorly drained, improvement is needed. A raised bed needs to be 4- to 6-inches deep, and may be made of garden soil from your local garden center, pine bark and similar landscape mixes (some may contain compost). Azaleas also need acidic soil (pH 5.5) to grow their best. Lower soil pH with aluminum sulfate and raise soil pH with dolomitic lime.
Be sure to provide enough room for your new Encore® Azaleas. Arrange plants in the bed while they are still in their pots to get the spacing and arrangement right. Smaller growing Encores should be toward the front of the bed, and taller growing Encores should be in the center or towards the back of the bed. Smaller beds may have one row of plants, and larger beds may have two to three offset rows of plants.
Whether you are planting a 1-, 2- or 3-gallon Encore® Azalea, space your plants based on their estimated mature size. Do not base spacing on the size of the plant at the time of planting. If you are planting smaller-sized plants (1 and 2 gallon) there will be more space between plants in the initial planting plan than there would be if you were using larger-sized plants (3 and 7 gallon).
Dwarf growing Encores will be 2- to 3-feet tall with a spread of 3- to 4-feet, so space these varieties 3- to 4-feet apart measuring from plant center to plant center. Intermediate growing Encores will be 4- to 6-feet tall with a spread of 4- to 5-feet. Typically, space these 4- to 5-feet apart.
Be sure the media in the existing container is damp to moist without being overly wet at the time of planting. The same should be said of the soil in the landscape bed or the media in a container where your new Encore® Azalea will be planted. New plants have a hard time becoming established in a dry landscape setting.
At the time of planting, pay close attention to the roots of your newly selected Encore® Azaleas. The plant should be easily removed from the container. Ideally, a nice mat of white or brown roots should be visible on the exterior of the root ball. If the plant is hard to remove from the container, root pruning may be needed. Use a knife to vertically cut into the root ball in several places, or use your fingers to pull apart and loosen the root ball. This will encourage the roots to grow out into the surrounding soil. Plant your Encore® Azalea slightly higher than it was growing in the original nursery container.
Encore® Azaleas, as with all ornamental shrubs, benefit from mulching, and should be mulched to a depth of 2-inches. Pine straw is excellent, along with pine bark, cedar mulch and more. Mulch conserves soil moisture and lessens soil temperature fluctuations in the root zone. This keeps roots cooler during the summer months and warmer during the winter months.
Due to Encore® Azaleas having a shallow root system, maintaining optimal soil moisture levels on your young plants is critical. Try to maintain uniformity in soil moisture. Do not allow plants to become too dry or too wet. For the first month or two after planting, irrigation will be needed from daily to three or four times weekly in the absence of rainfall. After several months in the landscape, Encore® Azaleas will perform well by applying about 1-inch of water weekly when rainfall is lacking. Irrigate slowly and deeply less often, instead of quickly and shallowly on a more frequent basis. Apply irrigation in the root zone area instead of over the foliage canopy of your plants.
Paying attention to plant spacing, roots, soil and irrigation will result in your newly planted Encore® Azaleas becoming well established, so you can enjoy blooms for many seasons to come.