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I'm new to azaleas. I saw some at the local HD and couldn't resist them. They were so beautiful I bought 7 of them. They are called "Snow" according to the tag. I could use some experienced advice on caring and pruning these gorgeous plants. Thanks in advance.
That is a nice white azalea with a liiiittle yellow blotch. Azaleas in the Metroplex tend to require planting in a raised bed when the soil is clayish. If you do not know what type of soil you have in your garden, you can either ask neighbors, make a soil test or ask a nearby plant nursery. If you cannot find someone who already knows what type of soil you have, try this: dig a hole the depth of the pot or root ball and fill it with water. If the hole drains within an hour you have good drainage. If the water has not drained out of the hole within one hour, the soil is poorly drained.
All azaleas -here in North Central Texas- are part shade plants that like moist and well-draining acidic soil:
* Moist Soil: you can water the soil 1gallon of water on a small shrub and test when to water (again) using the finger method. Insert a finger into the soil (not counting mulch) to a depth of 4". If it feels dry or almost dry then water. Otherwise, do not water yet. Make a note of the days that you water on a wall calendar and observe the results after 2 weeks. If you see that you are watering the soil every 4 days (for example) then set your sprinkler system to water 1 gallon every four days. If the temperatures change 10-15 degrees and stay here, use the finger test again to see if you need to tweak the amount of water or the frequency. To help you maintain the soil moist, use 3-4" of acidic mulch around the shrubs (spread it a little past the drip line). Watering from rain barrels is a good way to water that helps keep the soil acidic albeit just a little bit longer (our water is alkaline).
* Well-draining soil: Azalea roots are very tiny and fibrous. They only grow in the top four inches of the soil. If planted in well draining soil, the roots can grow and are not stuck in wet soil for long periods of time. If planted in clay soil, the roots cannot penetrate the hard/rocky soil that forms when clay soil dries out. They also stay wet too long because clay soil does not dry out quickly. You do not want the soil to remain wet (as opposed to moist) for long periods of time because this can cause root rot, which is fatal to most azaleas. That is why we compensate by using raised beds with acidic soil or by growing them in pots.
* Acidic soil: except in areas where there is or there used to be a body of water, you will not find acidic soil in the Metroplex. Instead, soil here tends to be alkaline. Azaleas tolerate alkaline soil a little bit but we usually have to ammend the soil with a soil acidifier liquid (sold at most nurseries), garden sulphur, green sand, etc. If you do not ammend the soil, the plant's leaves may turn a greenish-yellowish color with the plant veins remaining a strong dark green. Applying one of these ammendments (probably several times) will correct the problem in several weeks.
Azaleas thrive in areas where they get afternoon shade over here. Try to choose a place where there will be shade starting at 11am or 12pm. In the northern half of the country though, Azaleas can get much more sun that that.
And to answer the last question, Azaleas need no or very little pruning. If you choose a location where they can grow to their mature height, you will minimize the need to prune even further. When you need to correct stems that cross, stems that grow too much on only one side or dried out stems, you should do this two weeks after flowering and before the start of July. Sometime in July and-or August, the plant begins forming buds for next Spring (but they do not open until the proper time in Spring). Azaleas have dormant growth buds (called adventitious buds) all over their stems so feel free to prune anywhere along the stems.
Established Azaleas hardly need fertilizers. They are not hungry plants like roses. If you mulch them well, they can feed off the decomposing mulch on their own. For places where the soil is a little poor, Holly-tone is a fertilizer that can be added to the soil in the Spring (only once a year). I purchase Holly-tone at Calloway's Nurseries. Weak fertilizers like coffee grounds, liquid seaweed or liquid fish can be added during the growing season but stop all fertilizers by the start of July. This prevents new growth from being killed during winter.
Some azaleas are evergreen and some are deciduous. Both go dormant in winter and require less water then. But that does not mean, no water. So keep an eye for dry winters and water once a week or once every two weeks.