Good old favourite Alphonse Anderson
People often ask me, what are the best azaleas to grow?
I always tell them – go for the oldies! Because where azaleas are concerned, the oldies really ARE the goodies, if what you want are big, strong, floriferous and reliable plants to fill a space or make a show.
In this regard, the old indica species azaleas such as “Alphonse Anderson”, “Alba Magna” and “Exquisite” still out-perform every other type. They go on blooming year after year, decade after decade, and all they require is a bit of water in very dry weather, regular mulching with acidic stuff such as leaf mould or straw, and a good cut-back after flowering.
Of course, there are lots of lovely azalea varieties available today in all sorts of colors. And when it comes to selecting varieties of indica, mollis or kurume much depends on your climate – as a general rule indicas are the best for warmer climates while the deciduous mollis and compact kurumes thrive only in cold or upland climates. Azaleas have been so hybridized and genetically mucked about that the range available in a garden centre can be bewildering, unless you have a definite color scheme in mind.
The faithful old tall-growing indicas already mentioned here don’t produce autumn flowers, as do so many of the newer hybrid varieties . But though they only flower in spring (with occasional – but rare – spot flowering throughout the year) they do produce a good show for several weeks. And they are much less prone to petal blight and just plain dropping down dead than the newbies, where breeding seems to be aimed more at bringing out yet another flashy-flowered brief sensation rather than a vigorous plant.
Healthy blooms come from a healthy soil
Are your azaleas a sight for sore eyes this spring? If not, you may need to improve your soil.
Azaleas need a rich, loamy, acid soil to thrive and flower well. The only way you can achieve this is with lots of compost and mulch – and patience.
Step 1 – break up the surface of your existing soil and fork it over a bit, to open it up.
Step 2 – add heaps and heaps of compost. If you don’t make this yourself, buy it in. Or you can buy in a load of good soil – but that can be expensive.
Step 3 – test your soil for acidity. This is measured on a scale of 1 – 14, with acid soils at the lower end of the scale, alkaline at the other and a neutral, balanced soil in the middle. Azaleas like a soil acidity of 4 – 5.5 on the scale. You can have your soil professionally tested or buy a kit from a garden centre – it’s easy to use. If you can’t be bothered with any of this, just assume your soil needs acidifying and do this with…
Step 4 – mulch, using acid materials such as pine needles, shredded pine bark or leaf mould. Mulch is NOT the same as compost – compost is the rich, soil-like product of mixing organic greenwaste and manure and heating it to a high temperature to break down these ingredients. Added to your soil they enrich it and add essential nutrients. Mulching with coarse, uncomposted materials improves the structure and texture of your soil and as it composts slowly, over time (much slower than pre-made compost) it also adds some nutrients. Using compost and mulch together is the best and fastest way to improve soil, creating a growing environment for plant roots that is nutritious and able to retain moisture.
And that’s all there is to it. Do this now, and keep on mulching regularly during the year and by next year you should have a soil that will grow perfect azaleas. If you do, send me a photo!