How to plant (transplant) Azaleas in an alkaline soil

sarabellMarch 16, 2008

Hi! Forgive my gardening ignorance, I'm a newbie, and I'd really appreciate some help from you experts.

I planted some Azaleas in my front yard a couple of years ago. I'm slightly less clueless now-- turns out my soil is completely alkaline (8.0). They have managed to live through my mismanagement, but of course they haven't thrived. I'd like to move these to a different location, so I want to know what I should do to the soil at that point.

The info I've found here is that I can use specific plant foods and mulch with pine needles to help bring acidity, but before even transplanting, I imagine that I should work something into the soil, then plan to try to add acidity regularly, how should I do this, and with what? Also-- coffee grounds? What should I do with them?

I'd appreciate any help, thank you!

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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

Usually such alkaline soil is a poor starting point. It is a constant and usually loosing battle. What is worse is that your tap water is probably alkaline also. The best thing to do is used a raised bed of good well-drained acidic soil and to irrigate with rain water. This way you should face very few problems and just have to periodically add a little azalea fertilizer like HollyTone.

Using a raised bed isn't too hard. The azaleas have shallow roots, so the raised bed only needs to be about 12 inches high. If you have to use native soils, use sulfur or iron sulfate to make the soil acidic. My website at:

Henning's Rhododendron and Azalea Pages

has instructions on making alkaline soil acidic and making raised beds.

Using rain water usually involves creating a cistern to collect the water coming down your downspouts. Some people just put a screen over a plastic 55 gallon drum and run the water into the screen. Then the overflow is directed away from the house or into a drain. This should give you enough water to get you through droughts. Your plants will especially be sensitive to drought the first year or two after you move them.

Good drainage is mandatory. They need moist well drained soil. Poor drainage is very bad.

The first symptoms of alkaline soil is chlorosis. That is when the leave turn yellow between green veins. This leads to malnutrition and eventual starves the plant of nutrients.

And finally, don't forget to mulch. This keeps the roots cool in summer and protects them in the winter. It helps conserve moisture during dry spells and prevent frost heave in winter.

Some other good websites are:

Missouri Extension

North Carolina Extension (pdf)

Home & Garden TV

Rhododendron Society of Canada

Here is a link that might be useful: University of Nebraska Extension site on azaleas

    Bookmark   March 16, 2008 at 11:08PM
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sarabell

Thanks so much for your help, rhodyman! I've been all over your website this morning, great info. I will probably create a raised bed, and use your tips to collect rain water (which should have an acidic edge-- never thought of that!). The new bed will be right next to my new house, so I see that I will have to keep a very good eye on the acidity of the soil due to possible leakage from my concrete.
Thank so much for the help!

    Bookmark   March 17, 2008 at 11:41AM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

Again, the raised bed should keep the lime from your foundation from getting to your plants. Just keep the raised bad from contacting the foundation. If it is against the foundation, put something in between like a plastic edging of some kind or a timber between the bed and the foundation. Fortunately the alkalinity seldom moves up, so keep contact with the foundation below the raised bed.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2008 at 3:39PM
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sarabell

I followed your instructions the last few days, and transplanted them today. Thanks!

One more question, as I was working, I kept wondering-- are they going to live through this? They've been in the poor soil with hardly a thought for about 2 years. They are both decidedly alive right now, but I was wondering how likely it is that they will be able to bounce back from the past 2 years.

(also, I need to thank you for answering at all. lol Now that I've gotten more used to GardenWeb, and used to the Search function, I can see that my original question had been asked 5000 times already. Sorry! Couldn't find the answer to the new one, though.)

    Bookmark   April 9, 2008 at 8:51PM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

If the leaves are green and look healthy, you shouldn't have anything to worry about. If the leaves are chlorotic, yellow with green veins, then a treatment with chelated iron and powdered sulfur may be in order. With the raised bed, anything you do to change the pH will last.

My website gives specific details on using sulfur.

Here is a link that might be useful: How to grow rhododendrons and azaleas.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2008 at 3:44PM
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sarabell

Thank you!

    Bookmark   April 15, 2008 at 4:17PM
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