Alkali tolerant alternative to azelea

Louisville, KY

I have an Azalea which I believe is dying from calcium poisoning. The concrete basement wall is on one side, and the driveway curb on the other, it's near the runoff path for both.

This Azalea has been in decline for several years, it blooms fine but the foliage is yellow to brown or bronze. This year when I trimmed it after blooming, the center of the plant appears to be dead, no new growth has appeared.

I would like to replace this plant with something of the same general size, approximately 3 feet tall and wide, and which would be more tolerant of the high PH of that spot. My searches have not found anything promising. Can someone suggest something along this line? Thank you.


Hurst, TX(Zone 7b)

The azalea may not like the amount of water that it has to deal with. I grow azaleas in alkaline soil by amending it 1-2 times a year but they are not located where runoff water goes thru or where water can collect. Since their roots are real tiny, they can be damaged easily by this and suffer from root rot.

Louisville, KY

Thank you Luis_pr

There is a drain to carry the runoff under the driveway, the drain opening is just in front of the plant, and 3 or 4 inches lower in elevation. Water only gets over the roots if we have a very heavy and prolonged rain, happens maybe once a year. The Azalea on the other side of the AC unit doesn't seem to be affected much if at all. Water from the downspouts is carried to the drain by buried flexible plastic tubes.

The plant is mulched with shredded oak leaves, then pine bark nuggets, and coffee grounds. I give it Ironite, Ammonium Sulphate, and a couple of applications of Muracid per year.

The leaves are more yellow and brown or bronze than they appear in the pictures. It doesnt show well in the photo, but there is a large area in the center of the bush which appears to be dying, no new growth so far after trimming.


Thumbnail by JHarp Thumbnail by JHarp
Hurst, TX(Zone 7b)

Sorry to be writing so late/early, Jim, but I have someone with pison ivy who is keeping me up. Wish I could offer a pill and stop the itch.

Looking at the pictures, you could have had winter dessication (winter damage) that dried up some of the stems or too much nitrogen (from Ironite and Miracid) that kept the plant in 'grow' mode instead of sleep mode. The problem obviously did not hamper the nearby hostas or the oakleaf hydrangea.

For that reason, it may be worth it to check for bark split injury too; it is caused by freezing temps. where bark on branches and main stems splits and separates from the body, causing anything above that point to die.

Make sure to also prune dead wood if there is no leaf out soon. Established azaleas here do not get any food except mulch. They are not heavy feeders and will be just fine with decomposing mulch so I try to maintain 3-4" of acidic mulch at all times.

Too much nitrogen could cause bark split if the plant has not hardened off by the time the cold temps arrive although wild temp fluctuations could also accidentally trigger the plant to wake up. You can stop all fertilizers by the end June and ditch Miracid as it is not needed on an established azalea. Miracid variations can also contain 30% nitrogen too. I do add coffee grounds and acidic mulches but stop all fertilizers by the end of this month.

Too much rain would bother the azalea's fine roots (root rot) but I would expect the oakleaf hydrangea to also croak just as fast if the problem reached to where the hydrangea is. Both of them just do not like to be underwater, period. I lost one Alice hydrangea several years to root rot.

Sad to say but root rot on the azalea's fine/fine leaves can be terminal; you should notice the leaves wilting 24/7 if that is going on though, even hours after you water because the roots cannot absorb enough moisture for the leaves. So if you notice that leaf behaviour, watch out.


Louisville, KY

Thank you Luis.

I'll check for bark split tomorrow. That one does catch the wind coming around the corner of the house, and of course we had unusual and prolonged cold weather this past winter. The leaves are not wilting, just yellow and in some cased brown. It's the center part of the bush that appears to be dead.

I don't think it has ever been under water, it's on a slight mound, three to four inches above the drain, but only maybe eighteen inches away from it. Water did pool in between the house and the curb several years ago. The tube under the driveway was stopped up and there was a heavy rain.

I cleaned out the tube and put in a header box in to collect the water from the gutters, and the surface runoff. On the other side of the driveway, i dug a good sized pit and filled it with crushed stone to catch and distribute the water without washing a gully in the neighbors yard.

I've been trying to find an alternative plant to put there because it looks as if that one is not likely to survive. It would look kind of naked without something there. So far no luck, but I'll keep looking.


Houston Heights, TX(Zone 9a)

So you need something that tolerates wet feet? How about Tall Louisiana Irises or Cannas?

Louisville, KY

steadycam3,Yes those are both nice, but I don't think that is the spot for them..

I had a tought , maybe I should check on Yews, or something along that line which can be kept to a manageable size. Need something that will look nice through the year.


Louisville, KY

I checked that Azalea today, didn't find any split bark. Some branches now show pin-head size leaf buds, others still look dead. I'll watch it for a while, but don't expect too much from it.


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