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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Azalea Problems in the Desert

Q. We have an azalea planted on the northeast side of the house.  At this time of year it gets no sun. The tips of its leaves are brown.  What needs to be done?

A. Azalea is a very difficult plant to grow in our climate and soils. It likes soils on the acidic side, with lots of organic matter in the soil, absolutely hates salts and salinity, does not handle direct sunlight very well at all in the desert, in short it is one of the more difficult plants to grow here.

That being said, I also planted one about 30 years ago in a very similar exposure. It did the same thing as yours and that is the leaf tips turned brown or died after about three years.
If you are going to try and make this work to any degree at all your exposure would be okay but you have to modify your soil with lots of good compost, finally ground sulfur or aluminum sulfate to help lower the pH of the soil and wood mulch.

Make sure you have enough water surrounding the plant so that the soil doesn't dry out. If this were my plant I would push any salts out of the soil surrounding the roots by letting the hose slowly run water around the base of the plant for several hours so it is completely drenched. I would wait two or three days and do it again.

The purpose of this is to push out any salts that may have accumulated around the roots. I would check to make sure that there are enough drip emitters, if that's what you're using, to thoroughly wet the soil around the plant every time it irrigates. If not, I would add some.

Next I would lightly dig in around the base of the plant some good compost mixed with finely granulated sulfur and some iron chelate.

Next I would look for a specialty fertilizer for azaleas and fertilize the plant lightly this fall. If this were a water-soluble fertilizer I would mix it in a bucket of water and pour around the base of the plant. I would repeat the fertilizer application in the spring.

Finally I would cover the soil under the plant with a couple of inches of wood chip mulch. The old believes that have scorched tips will remain on the plant until you get some new growth and they finally drop off.

Read another point of view about azaleas in the desert

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