Ablaze with colour

The for­got­ten aza­lea puts on a stun­ning show in spring

Life & Style Weekend - - GARDEN - With Maree Cur­ran Got a gar­den­ing ques­tion? Email [email protected]­nat­by­ron.com.au

AZALEAS maybe aren’t as pop­u­lar as they were 10 or 20 years ago. I’m not sure why be­cause there is a lot to like about these lovely flow­er­ing shrubs.

They do not get too big, and they flower pro­fusely over a long pe­riod, of­ten a cou­ple of times a year.

They are at their most spec­tac­u­lar in spring, when the bushes may be so smoth­ered in flow­ers that the fo­liage is com­pletely hid­den.

The flow­ers may be sin­gle or dou­ble, large or quite small, and are held in clus­ters. The colour pal­ette ranges from white to pas­tel pinks to bold reds, or­anges and pur­ples. The plant size can vary from the minia­tures, only 30cm high, to large 2.5-me­tre shrubs.

Most azaleas pre­fer part or dap­pled shade, although some va­ri­eties, usu­ally those bear­ing sin­gle flow­ers, will grow in full sun.

They love a well-drained, slightly acidic soil that is rich in or­ganic mat­ter. Azaleas are quite shal­low rooted, so they ben­e­fit from a layer of mulch to help keep the root zone cool and to con­serve mois­ture.

They grow beau­ti­fully in pots, and can even be en­joyed in­doors for a few weeks dur­ing flow­er­ing time. If you’re grow­ing your azaleas in pots, make sure you use a spe­cific aza­lea pot­ting mix and choose a pot that is not too big for the plant.

The minia­ture forms are of­ten used in bon­sai.

After flow­er­ing is fin­ished, usu­ally in late spring, cut them back by about one third, and ap­ply a suit­able fer­tiliser at the rec­om­mended rate.

Azaleas are a great choice if you need to add some colour in the dap­pled shade cast by es­tab­lished trees. They look quite at home in Ja­panese-style gar­dens as well as clas­si­cal, cot­tage and coun­try gar­dens. Com­bine them with camel­lias, gar­de­nias, plec­tran­thus Mona Laven­der or cliveas. Plant them en masse to achieve a sen­sa­tional spring show.

While they are easy to grow, they aren’t com­pletely pest-free. Loss of colour, or sil­ver­ing, in the leaves is usu­ally the work of the tiny aza­lea lace bug.

They suck the sap out of the leaves, which may then fall pre­ma­turely. If the in­fes­ta­tion becomes very se­vere, it may kill the plant. We used to rec­om­mend Con­fi­dor to treat this, but now that we know that Con­fi­dor is toxic to bees I don’t think we should use it. Neem oil sprays have been ef­fec­tive in tri­als, so use that in­stead.

Azaleas grow­ing in hot, sunny po­si­tions are more sus­cep­ti­ble to at­tack from lace bug and other in­sects, so you can limit the dam­age by pro­vid­ing ideal grow­ing con­di­tions.

Nat­u­ral preda­tors of aza­lea lace bugs in­clude as­sas­sin bugs, lacewing lar­vae and lady bee­tles, so en­cour­age them into your gar­den by lim­it­ing pes­ti­cide use and cul­ti­vat­ing plants that will at­tract them.

Pe­tal blight is the other most com­mon prob­lem. This is a fun­gal con­di­tion which causes the flow­ers to turn brown and mushy. Re­duce the risk by avoid­ing over­head wa­ter­ing, and treat it if nec­es­sary with Eco-Fungi­cide.

PHOTO: THINKSTOCK

Azaleas pro­vide a won­der­ful show of colour dur­ing spring when they are at their peak.

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