8 Reasons Your Azaleas Are Turning Brown and Dying

Are your azaleas struggling this season? If you've noticed your azaleas starting to turn brown and die, you are not alone! Azaleas are beautiful when blooming, but can be picky when it comes to maintenance. In this article, gardening expert Jill Drago walks through the most common reasons azaleas start to die, and how to turn it around!

azaleas turning brown

After the spring bloom has ended and the flowers have faded, your azalea should be full of lush evergreen foliage. The glowing colors of the azaleas typically flower from March to June. These shrubs bloom in shades of pink, red, or crisp white.

But what if those lush green leaves are suddenly brown, crispy, and falling to the ground? What happens when your previously beautiful azalea suddenly appears to be dying a terribly sad and unexpected death. This can be so frustrating.

The good news is that while azaleas are very easy to care for, they can also be quite sensitive to their surroundings. Most likely whatever is causing this problem will be a quick and easy fix. Continue reading to learn about eight reasons that your azalea could be struggling, as well as quick and easy ways to give them some relief.

Lack of Water

azalea drooping leaves
Brown, drooping leaves are a sign of insufficient watering.

A sure sign that your azalea needs some water is drooping leaves. Azaleas like to be planted in well draining soil, and they should be kept moist but not saturated. These flowering shrubs have shallow roots and can dry out quickly.

One way to keep the roots moist is by mulching your gardens. This addition of mulch will protect your roots from the bright sun while also aiding your shrub in retaining a good balance of moisture in the soil.

Azaleas are at their best when they get one inch of water per week. Rainfall may be enough at some points of the year, but in the warmer and dryer seasons you may need to provide additional water.

If you are not sure how much water your garden gets, you should try placing a rain gauge in your garden to gather the best information for your garden’s needs.

Oftentimes, azaleas with dropping leaves will recover in a few hours after they have been given a good watering.

Too Much Sun

azaleas brown dry leaves
Make sure you plant in a semi-shady spot in your garden to prevent the leaves from drying out in full sun.

Most azaleas prefer to grow in partial shade. Even though some azaleas are tolerant of full sun, most species will encounter some difficulties when they do not get a break from the sun. Sun damage can look like burned or browned leaves. The sun will also cause the roots to dry out more quickly, leading to more issues.

The best way to overcome this is to make sure that you have planted in a shaded area. It is even better if your azalea is shaded even during the winter months. This can be achieved by planting under evergreen trees as opposed to deciduous trees such as a maple tree.

Lace Bug Infestation

lace bug on plant
Lace beetles are one of the most common pests of the azalea, as they live their entire life cycle in the plant.

While azaleas have been known to be targets for common garden insects, none of those insects affect the azalea quite like a lace bug. These little flying insects live their entire life cycle in or around azaleas. Laying their eggs on the undersides of the azalea leaves, and is where the trouble begins.

You will likely notice a lace bug infestation in the summer when the temperatures begin to rise. If you notice small yellow spots along the upper surface of your leaves you probably have a lace bug issue.

These small yellow spots mark the areas where the bugs have been feeding and actually sucking the life out of the leaves.  If left untreated, the insects will continue to feed and will kill your leaves.

These insects can be difficult to control because you need to apply a pesticide multiple times a year to battle each stage of the insect’s life. Keeping your azaleas healthy is the best way to prevent this type of infestation. Keep your garden free of weeds, and other plant material, and add mulch to your gardens to keep your plant well hydrated.

Branch Dieback

Branch Dieback of shrub
If the azalea is affected by a fungal disease, it is necessary to remove the plant as soon as possible.

Azalea branch dieback is caused by two different fungal diseases: Botryosphaeria or Phytophthora. Unfortunately, if you notice signs of branch dieback there is no chemical treatment. The best thing you can do is remove the plant as soon as possible to avoid the disease spreading to other nearby plants.

SIgns of branch dieback will probably start with discoloration of leaves on one or two branches. This discoloration may range from light green, yellow, and finally to brown. These leaves will then fall to the ground. Dieback is a quick killer, usually taking a plant out within a month of infection.

The best thing you can do for your azaleas when it comes to dieback, is prevent it. Keep your plants well cared for, and keep the area surrounding them clean and clear of infected plant material

Poor Pruning

pruned azaleas branches and secateurs
Leaf browning can be caused by stress from improper pruning.

If you have pruned at the incorrect time, your azalea could be suffering due to stress. Pruning during warmer temperatures will cause the plant to dry out and the first thing you will notice is the browning and dropping of leaves.

The best time to prune your azaleas is in the spring. This is the best timing for a few reasons. One reason is that springtime pruning does not affect the flowers for the next season.

Flower buds are formed shortly after the flowers pass, and pruning too late in the season will eliminate those flower buds. The next reason is because pruning in the spring will give the new growth plenty of time to harden off and prepare for the cold winter temperatures.

Too Much Wind

Garden shrubs with diseased leaves
If your azalea is exposed to strong winds, then its leaves will begin to dry out.

Azaleas can be sensitive to too much wind. When the plant is subject to wind the leaves will begin to dry out. You may even notice the bark on the branches beginning to split.

This is preventable and fixable by choosing an area in your garden that is protected from drying winds. When you find the perfect spot, be sure to give your azaleas well draining soil to ensure that the plant will be as hydrated as possible. It is also recommended to mulch around those shallow roots to keep them from drying out.

Winter Damage

Shrub under the frost
Azaleas can be damaged by frost and can be brought back to life by pruning.

Winter damage can be scary to see. When spring arrives your typically healthy azalea will just look dead. Oftentimes what happens to azaleas over the winter is the ground will freeze and the shrub will not be able to take up any water, leaving it dry and dehydrated.

Before doing anything too drastic like removing the plant or pruning it, give it a chance to come back to life once the ground thaws. Don’t overwater it, but make sure the shallow roots are moist.

If you don’t notice any new growth or greening up of the plant, you can attempt to prune the plant. Pruning in general forces new growth in a plant. This alone can revive your plant. Try to do this pruning in the spring before the temperatures rise.

Fertilizer Burn

Fertilizer Burn on plant
Excessive fertilization can lead to scorching, which will appear as brown spots on the leaves.

Fertilizer burn will show up shortly after you fertilize your plants which should make it a bit easier to diagnose. You may notice your leaves turning brown and dropping.

If you realize that you used too high of a dose during your application shortly after you can try to flood the fertilizer out with excessive watering. If you are successful at this you may not have any symptoms at all.

However, if you don’t realize the error until you see the symptoms this may be a bit trickier. Here, you will need to exercise patience and see how your plant recovers on its own. You can give your azalea a tiny hair cut, removing leaves and the tips of the plant that have burned. Keep your plant moist throughout this process.

I would also recommend a soil test if you are growing azaleas. These flowering shrubs do not need much fertilizer, if any at all. A soil test will help you figure that out, and possibly save you from experiencing fertilizer burn at all!

Final Thoughts

If you have found yourself dealing with a troubled azalea it is most likely due to environmental factors such as too much sun, too little water, or other factors that could be related to the plant’s location. Do not rush to treat your azalea for insects or diseases unless you see some telltale signs of an infestation. This could be the presence of insects or signs of a fungus disease which could look like brown spots or galls on varying parts of the plant.

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