Azalea plants are lovely in the spring and summer but need adequate protection in order to survive the winter months, especially in colder climates. Even in areas that don't get frost, attention should be paid to preparing azaleas for winter. Here are some steps to follow to ensure success in next year's growing season.
Step 1 – Taper Off Watering
About one month before the first expected frost, azalea plants should start receiving a reduced amount of water. This is because plants must go dormant, or harden off, before winter. Later, after winterizing the azalea plants, and a few hard frosts have hit, water the plants well to give the soil enough moisture to withstand warmer and colder winter days ahead.
Step 2 – Check the Forecast
When an extended cold front is forecast, it’s a sign that winterizing azalea plants should be completed within one to two days.
Step 3 – Have Mulch on Hand
Keep an adequate supply of mulch on hand until you ready to winterize your azaleas. Keep in mind that each plant needs enough mulch for a 2-inch depth on the ground around the plant. More fragile plants will need even more mulch.
There are various types of mulch, but the best ones to to use for azaleas are naturally decomposing wood and leaf mold. Other good mulches include leaves, pine needles, twigs, wood chips, ground bark, and wood shavings.
Step 4 – Trim Back Branches
Get azalea plants and bushes ready for winterizing by trimming back unruly or overgrown branches on dedicuous varieties. For evergreen azalea plants, trim only as needed for shaping and to remove dead branches and stems. Use sharp loppers or pruning clippers for the task. Pruning clippers should be used for branches less than 1/2 inch in size, while loppers are used for branches from 1/2 inch to 1 1/2 inches in diameter.
Step 5 – Mulch Around Plants
Lay the mulch around the plants to the depth of two inches. Mound up around the base of the shrub, making sure to radiate mulch outward as far as the main roots. This helps provide adequate protection and retain moisture in the azalea plants. Water thoroughly after mulching.
Step 6 – Extra Winter Protection
In areas with particularly cold winters or areas that alternate between freezing and warmer temperatures, cover plants with a burlap sack to give them additional protection.
Step 7 – Fertilizing
Although fertilizing is important to healthy azaleas, keep in mind some recommendations from azalea experts. Feeding with azalea-camellia food should be done right after blooming in the spring and only lightly during growing season.
Some azalea aficionados say not to fertilize after June. Their theory is that you don’t want to push plants into an active growth mode before winter. The Azalea Society of America cautions that azaleas don’t need much in the way of fertilizing. Just use organic mulch around the plants. If fertilizing is required, have a soil test performed to see what deficiencies need correcting. Others say to fertilize every six weeks until mid-September. Then, don’t fertilize until last frost in the spring.
By following these simple steps, getting azalea plants and bushes ready for winter should be a snap. Once completed, you can relax and look forward to great blooms the next growing season.