Can I use generic 12-12-12 fertilizer in place of 'Azalea Food'

shovelslaveNovember 1, 2011

HI Folks,

We are being swallowed up in galloping fertilizer cost (yeah, Bernanke, there is no inflation! ;-) ). Our very very expensive "Azalea and Camellia" Fertilizer says 10-8-8 or something close on it. The generic fertilizer I buy for evergreen shrubs occasional feeding is 12-12-12. Can I substitute the generic for the same results? My suspicion is that the 400% markup I pay for Azalea food pays for the color pictures on the bag... and 4000% profit. Any suggestions from the pros? Thanks in advance.


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mainegrower(Z5b ME)

The most important part of any fertilizer for azaleas is not the NKP ratio. It's whether the sources for nitogen, phosporous and potassium in the fertilizer will be available for acid soil plants. Another consideration is how rapidly or slowly the fertilizer works. Rhododendrons want slow steady feeding, not a sudden shot of nutrients which then rapidly disappears. This usually means organic based fertilizers are better than others.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2011 at 5:18AM
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morz8(Washington Coast Z8b)

Agree with mainegrower. I would add that azaleas are not heavy feeders and might do as well with a top dressing of compost over the root zones if planted in soil with the correct ph. If they are showing signs of needing fertilizer, you might consider Holly-Tone by Espoma. If you are fertilizing out of habit and not in response to symptoms, you could save your dollars altogether and quit doing that :)

    Bookmark   November 2, 2011 at 3:01PM
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Thanks Gents.

We have a mixed bag of older azaleas that were here when I bought the house in 1987 and some that we have planted. The newer planted ones are doing better. I suspect that is because they are still growing into the well amended holes we dug for them in the horrid Georgia red clay we have here. The sickly older AZ are along a narrow grass band under a row of huge pines. My wife wanted ... so we planted ... cherry trees under the pines which grew very fast and stole a bunch of the sunlight. We have also had massive drought the past 3 years and that coupled with doubled water cost = minimal watering. To further my challenge, we have GA red clay. The only spots where it isn't solid red clay is where we have planted something with lots of amendments. Or where pine needles or leaves from large oaks have accumulated. Futher, the She Who Must BE Obeyed is having me rake up every ounce of pine needles and leaves from under all the trees and haul to the back 40... so no natural compost is being allowed to collect where it could be some help. I could compost some of it and place it around the AZ and Cam... if she doesn't catch me!(Just kidding!) That's probably what I need to do.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2011 at 4:03PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

You DO know that this is not a good time to fertilize your azaleas (or much of anything) in your location, right? Especially with a product that might have a fast acting N carrier and could 'encourage' your plants to grow at this time of year, rather than harden off.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2011 at 9:45PM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

Hi Shovelslave,

I see a number of problems.

First, if the grass band is growing up next to the older azaleas, the grass is competing with the azalea roots which is a very bad situation. But don't cultivate, just mulch to keep the grass and weeds back. Mulching is not just a good idea, it is essential to grow healthy azaleas.

Second, the pine straw is about the best mulch you can get for azaleas. You don't need to compost it. Spread about 2 inches of pine straw under your azaleas. This will prevent the grass and weeds from competing with the roots and also provide a slow steady source of nutrients as the pine straw decays in place. You will need to add more pine straw each year to make up for the naturally decaying of the existing pine straw. It is a crime to destroy pine straw and not mulch shrubs and other plants. Even trees can benefit from pine straw mulch.

Third, some shade is good, but to much shade tends to make azaleas tall and gangly and not bloom. The best thing to do is to remove the lower branches on the trees near the azaleas so they don't shade the azaleas. Then thin out the taller branches if you still have too much shade.

Fourth, drought is a problem. The best precaution is shade and mulch. A properly mulched azalea with afternoon shade can take drought much better than an azalea with no mulch in full sun. I would recommend watering thoroughly about every 2 weeks in a drought, especially in your area where summer drought is not natural like it is in the Pacific Northwest.

Fifth, a properly mulched planting not only is much easier to maintain and has healthier plants, but also looks much better. Commercial plantings have people come in to top off the mulch for these very reasons. It is much easier and safer to edge near a mulched bed than near a tree or other plant.

One precaution, it is a good idea to pull the pine straw back from the stems of woody plants like azaleas and trees. Voles can tunnel under the mulch and chew on the stems and bark. This is mainly a problem in the north when snow is on the ground. I am not sure how much of a problem this would be in Georgia.

Good Luck!

    Bookmark   November 19, 2011 at 9:03AM
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