What can I do to save my azelea?

lilionMay 16, 2007

I have an azelea next to my house hidden between overgrown burning bush and a huge peony. I admit, it's been neglected. I've lived there 5 years and have thought of moving it, but never got around to it. This spring we had several days of 20 degree weather in April while I was out of town and the poor thing has about had it. It's leafed out now, but all of it's sparce leaves are burned brown in patches. Obviously, it didn't bloom at all. With such sparce growth, it actually appears there are three distinct bushes, all very small, instead of the one large one I thought I had.

I don't want it to die altogether. I have a shady bed in front of the house where an inkberry bush formerly was that I want to move it to, but I don't want to shock it any worse right now and I expect this isn't the best time to move it anyway. I've been told to move it in the fall. But what can I do for it right now that might give it a boost? It's looking awfully bad.

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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

For many of us, this past winter our plants took a beating with the very unusual winters some of us had with warm weather followed by late freezes. They have what is more typical of drought damage but in this case was caused by the warm weather followed by late freezes. It causes Botryosphaeria dothidea which causes leaves to turn dull green and then brown and roll and droop. Cankers form on branches which may girdle the branch.

This is the most common disease of rhododendrons in the landscape. A typical symptom of this fungal disease is scattered dying branches on an otherwise healthy plant. Leaves on infected stems turn brown, then droop and roll inward. These leaves often lay flat against the stem and will remain attached. The pathogen can infect all ages of stem tissue through wounds, pruning cuts, and leaf scars. Heat, drought stress, and winter injury can increase disease incidence. Cankers on branches can gradually grow through the wood until the stem becomes girdled. Diseased wood is reddish brown in appearance. Discolored wood viewed in longitudinal cross section often forms a wedge that points toward the center of the stem, and the pith may be darker brown than the surrounding wood.

Sanitation and applying a fungicide such as metalaxyl (Subdue) after pruning my provide some control. Plants should be grown in partial shade, with mulch and kept well watered during dry periods. All dying branches should be promptly pruned out in dry weather and all discolored wood should be removed. Plants should also be protected from rough treatment during maintenance activities to prevent unnecessary wounds.

Whether to transplant in spring or fall is always a question. Fall is normally the best time because roots on a new plant need help establishing themselves. The shallow root system can't take in all the water it may need to survive and a drought can spell disaster. Water them frequently in the morning. Mature plants are much hardier and Mother Nature seems to take good care of them under normal conditions. Care for new plants for 2-3 years to help them get established. One problem with fall transplanting is that it makes a plant more susceptible to frost heave in climates where freezing and thawing cycles are common. In that case, rhododendrons transplant best in the spring. It must be noted that maintaining the proper moisture level in the summer is very difficult after spring transplanting. Make sure you watch the plant after it was moved like you would a new plant. Its roots are compromised and it will need a reliable source of moisture. If the weather has a dry spell, make sure you water any newly planted rhododendrons, large or small.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2007 at 3:54PM
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So I should prune, apply fungicide, mulch, keep watered and not transplant until fall?

Truthfully, I've never pruned anything but a forsythia, which I couldn't kill if I tried. Is there a good site that will show me the proper way to prune this plant?

    Bookmark   May 16, 2007 at 4:42PM
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Get the product miracid from miracle grow mix with water,water with that.It helps immensly...I also put pine tree needles under bushes for acid.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2007 at 4:55PM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

Unfortunately miracid is mostly advertising hype from Scotts. It is actually mostly water soluable nitrogen which is exactly what azaleas don't need. Use a balanced azalea fertilizer like Hollytone in the spring. Use it at half the rate on the package.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2007 at 11:38PM
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