Losing my azaleas, Or: Am I a hole-digging loser? (cross-post)

fmogul(z6-7 NY)October 6, 2013

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?



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Sounds to me like you have done everything you can. Azaleas are pretty hard to kill. Conditions sound perfect etc.
Sometimes we just have to toss them and get more/or not.

    Bookmark   October 13, 2013 at 9:20AM
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Mike Larkin

"Could be the spot, of course. But the soil and light and wind exposure seem fine."

you have not mentioned the planting location. Sun, shade, type of soil, how much do you water? both plants like a little shade in afternoon. Both are shallow rooted plants and need to be well mulched. Take them out of the pot, and cut an X in the bottom of the root mass. Not sure what you mean by hack back. I would simply cut and spread, then plan and water on a regular basis and be sure to mulch.

If you think about where these plants like to grow, We typically plant them in poor soil, along the foundation of our house. Where the builder placed the worst soil.

Avoid, clay soil, full sun, infrequent watering. Do not fertilizer the first year, and go eay on the root separation,

Here is a link that might be useful: Garden Design Ideas

    Bookmark   October 19, 2013 at 10:03PM
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