With the Florida spring season in the air, I would to talk about a very seasonal plant known as the azalea.
These colorful plants are always a sure sign of spring when they burst into full color. Even though spring is officially still several weeks away, now is the time to start planning where you want to show off these heavy bloomers.
You should consider a location where the plants will only receive filtered light. They do not like full direct sun all day. An area under the eaves of your house or an area that receives filtered sun through pine trees would be an excellent location.
If you want your plants to live a long and healthy life, proper soil is the key. Azaleas like a soil that is acidic, with a ph of around 5.5. Generally, soil that is exposed to pine needles will be naturally acidic in nature and when mixed with a good organic soil, you have an excellent planting medium to give your plants a good start.
You should also be sure your plants are in a well-drained area so they won't sit in water for long periods. Preparing a raised bed is the best assurance for good drainage.
Once the soil is properly prepared, you want to apply a slow-release fertilizer directly to the soil. Osmocote for acid-loving plants is an excellent choice.
Once you have your azaleas planted and established, the rest is easy. The beauty of these plants is that they require very little maintenance. They are not heavy feeders, and thus do not need to be fertilized on a regular basis. The best time for feeding is after they have finished their bloom cycle in the spring. Always use a slow-release fertilizer, and do not let the fertilizer come in direct contact with the roots.
Okay, you got your plants established, fertilized and your soil is perfect, so what's next?
The next step is to ensure that your plants bloom year after year.
One of the best ways to insure this is by proper pruning. You always want to prune and shape your plants right after they have finished blooming. Don't wait till the dead of summer to do this, or you risk losing flowers next season.
Even though azaleas have a fairly short bloom cycle, the plants stay healthy and green all year long. Because of this, they are considered evergreens. This is what makes them such a desirable choice for a year-round plant.
Just to summarize, azaleas are heavy bloomers, they are easy to take care of and they do very well in both winter cold and hot summers provided they are in filtered sunlight.
Joe Zelenak has more than 30 years experience in gardening and landscape. Send e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his Web site www.hometowngarden.com.