Losing my azaleas, Or: Am I a hole-digging loser?
They say for a $10 plant, dig a $100 hole (or 10x that, adjusted for inflation). I think I do that -- producing a hole that's not too dense, not too loose, not too rich and overall just right. But I have to wonder.
I'm currently losing a pair of small azaleas I planted in the spring -- after losing a pair of rhodo's there the previous year (those at least took years to die). I think they're too far gone and at this point little will save them. I should have acted sooner, but it's been a busy summer (though not too busy to water -- just little time to do much else).
Could be the spot, of course. But the soil and light and wind exposure seem fine. Plenty of other things grow nearby, some of them moderately to very fussy in our urban setting, including cyclamen, hellebores, painted ferns, columbine. Could always be something invisible, like mold, fungus, phytophora, anthracnose, various contaminants. They could also come from bad stock that's diseased or otherwise flawed.
But here's what I wonder: when you take them out of plastic pots from the store, and they're all root-bound, I've heard two conflicting things: "gently" try to untangle the roots before planting (which never works), and this: do what you need to do, pull them apart, even use the shears, because those little roots will grow back just fine, as long as the soil is good and you water them well and don't over-fertilize.
And so, I tend to hack the roots pretty thoroughly, while still leaving a lot intact. I always feel a bit squeamish about this, but I nervously do it.
What do we think, master gardeners: could this be the problem? Should I be more gentle? Any tips for planting and dealing with those roots?
Or should I get an expensive soil test for disease, if that's even possible?
In sum: Is the fault not in my soil but in myself? Or is it more likely to be environmental conditions?