Landscaping & Nursery Information for Home Gardeners


Azaleas & rhododendrons may need winter protection, depending on types selected. The University of Minnesota's "Northern Lights" series are extremely hardy for central Illinois.

When planting any azalea/rhododendron, choose a protected location from winter sun and winter wind. Most plants prefer a shady location

Plants should not be fertilized or pruned after July 1. New growth may not have a sufficient amount of time to become woody and harden off for the winter.

Young plants can be enclosed with chicken wire or dog fencing and packed loosely with oak leaves. Remove the protection in the spring as buds start expanding.

Mature plants can be mulched with several inches of wood chips at the base. Evergreen boughs can be leaned or tied against plants to limit winter injury.

An anti-desicant can be used to help prevent winter drying. Read and follow all directions to the letter. Most are a "waxy" substance that can break down quickly during winter's thaws necessitating reapplication.

Florist azaleas are NOT hardy in central Illinois and should not be planted outdoors for survival. However, they can be cared for as a regular blooming houseplant.

Make sure the soil doesn't dry out and the plant doesn't wilt. Many azalea soil mixes are composed of a high percentage of peat moss which dries quickly, especially when the plant is in full bloom. It may be necessary to water daily. Submerging the pot and allowing the peat-like soil to absorb water, and then draining in the sink may be beneficial.

Once the petals have fallen, keep the plant in a cool, sunny location. Plants may be set outdoors in partial shade for the summer. Fertilize monthly with an acid fertilizer. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy. Keep the plant outdoors as long as possible in the fall, but bring indoors before a heavy frost.

In order for the plants to re-bloom, it is necessary to go through a cool, dormant period. Temperatures between 40 - 50 degrees F. are ideal. Warmer temperatures will probably limit flower bud formation. Plants should receive full sun during this period. Continue to water but limit fertilizers. When flower buds start forming in January or February, move the plant to a warmer location and increase humidity.

Azaleas/rhododendrons are usually planted in the spring. Fall planting may not allow enough time for roots to establish and plants to develop winter hardiness.

Locate plants in a shaded location on the north, east or northwest side of a building. Choose a location protected from winter sun and winter winds.

One of the main causes of azalea/rhododendron death is too much moisture, caused by improper planting.

Work the soil bed thoroughly. Add peat moss and compost to increase the soil's tilth and drainage. The peat moss will also make the soil more acidic, necessary for good growth. A pH around 5.5 is generally preferred.

Instead of planting the azalea/rhododendron at ground level, set the plant slightly higher, keeping one-third (1/3) to one-fourth (1/4) of the plant above ground. Mound the soil around the plant, sloping it gently away. This prevents the plant from sitting in too much water.

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