When Should You Plant Flowering Azaleas?

Not sure when you should put your azaleas in the ground this season? Azaleas are beautiful flowering shrubs, but planting at the wrong time can cause a lack of blooms or even plant death. In this article, gardening expert Jill Drago examines the best time to plant Azaleas in your garden.

Pink Azaleas growing in the garden. The flowers are bright pink, and there are about fifteen blooms in the image, with light green foliage in the background.

Azaleas are known as beautiful spring bloomers, and in recent years even reblooming varieties have hit the market with great success. These shrubs can be evergreen or deciduous. Azaleas bloom in shades of red and also in shades of pink, purple, or white.

And while the azalea has become a popular garden shrub, some aspects of their care can range quite a bit based on your local microclimate. So when should we plant these spring beauties? Is it better to plant in the spring when the season is just getting started, or should you hold off and plant in the fall? Can we plant azaleas in the summer?

It can be tricky to decide when to plant new Azaleas into your garden, so let’s talk about it. No matter your location, you’ll find the perfect time to get them in the ground this season!

The Short Answer

The best time to plant your azaleas is in the spring after the ground has thawed, or in the fall before the ground freezes. Planting azaleas at this time will help to prevent transplant shock and give your shrubs the best chance at survival. While summer planting is better than winter planting in most climates, there is still a greater chance these shrubs won’t make it after transplanting during these times.

The Long Answer (Spring vs. Fall)

Close-up of an Azalea bush blooming with soft pink-orange flowers with green leaves in a garden. This bush has semi-double bell-shaped flowers of light pink color with an orange spot on one of the petals towards the middle of the flower and 5 long stamens. Elliptical green leathery, matte green leaves, pubescent on both sides. The background is blurry.
Spring planting gives enough time for your azalea to be established in its new home.

Is there a difference between spring and fall planting? There is, but it is not a vast difference. The most important factor is that the ground is workable, and that the temperatures are cool.

Planting in the spring takes patience. You need to make sure that the ground has thawed and that you are out of the woods of any late frosts or snow events. I like to add plants into my garden, especially shrubs, in the spring.

I am much more active in the garden in the spring which makes it easy for me to check on newly planted shrubs. Another benefit to planting in the spring is you have the entire rest of the year to get your azalea established in its new home.

When it comes to fall planting, the most important thing to remember is to plant far enough in advance of any frosts. Fall is a good time to find plants on sale at garden centers making it a good time to plan for large additions to your garden.

Again, it is very important to water your azaleas all of the way until a frost hits. The shallow roots of your new shrub need as much assistance as they can get during this crucial time.

What about Summer?

Close-up of a blooming azalea bush with magnificent bright purple flowers collected in ball-shaped inflorescences. Semi-double bell-shaped purple flowers with an orange spot with dark pink dots on one of the petals closer to the middle of the flower and 5 long stamens.
The main problems of planting in summer are low rainfall and high temperatures.

Okay, so what is the actual deal with planting azaleas in the summer? Of course, you can plant in the summer, it just makes it a bit more dicey of a situation.

When the temperatures are higher, and the rainfall is less, it becomes a difficult situation for a plant to thrive, even our established plants. Of course, there are windows in the summertime where planting could be beautiful, but that would be left up to you and your local climate to decide.

The number one thing you need to do when planting in the summer is to keep your shrubs watered. You still don’t want to drown them. So watering low and slow is the way to go. Place your hose at the base of the plant and let it drip out, or use a sprinkler on a very low setting.

Transplant Shock

Close-up of a male hand showing a yellowed and twisted leaf on an azalea bush. Elliptical green leathery leaves illuminated by the bright sun.
Your azalea may receive transplant shock due to an unsatisfactory root system.

Transplant shock is a broad term that represents the stresses your azalea may be undergoing after it has been newly planted in the ground either from a nursery pot or from a transplant. Most of the time the symptoms of transplant shock are directly related to an unhappy root system.

You will notice various symptoms of transplant shock in your leaves. The leaves may yellow, curl, drop, and turn brown, you name it. These symptoms could present themselves after improper planting depth, too little water, or too much exposure to wind.

The main issue with these symptoms is that they open the plant up to insect or disease infestation which could lead the azalea to decline. If possible, it’s always best to avoid transplant shock with new garden plants.

Planting Azaleas

Many small plastic pots of azalea rhododendron flower bushes are prepared for planting ornamental gardens on a sunny day. The bushes have strong stovburs with many branches on which elliptical green leathery leaves grow.
Find a part-shade spot in your garden and dig a hole two to three times as wide as the azalea root ball.

Before you start digging your hole, you will want to find the perfect spot in your yard. You probably already have a spot in mind. This spot should be located in partial shade and should have some protection from drying winds.

Gently remove your azalea from its nursery container, and break up the root ball a little bit. This will allow the roots of the azalea to take hold in its new home easier. Sometimes shrubs can get rootbound in pots, so you may want to use some garden pruners to cut some of the roots loose.

Now that you are ready to dig your hole, grab your shovel and dig a hole that is two to three times wider than the root ball of the azalea. You will want to position your azalea so that the top of the root ball sits about two inches above the existing soil line.

This ensures that the crown of the plant gets enough air, and also helps with drainage. Next, backfill the hole with the soil you dug out and water your new azalea slowly but thoroughly.

Fertilization After Transplanting

Close-up of a beautiful blooming pink to purple rhododendron flower bush planted in the yard. Semi-double bell-shaped purple flowers with an orange spot with dark pink dots on one of the petals closer to the middle of the flower and 5 long stamens. White granules of chemical fertilizer are scattered on the soil.
Azaleas do not require additional fertilizer, but you can add compost to improve soil structure.

Azaleas do not require additional fertilizer, most of the time, especially after being transplanted into your garden. There are of course instances where your soil may be lacking in a few nutrients and your azalea could benefit from a fertilizer that is specialized for acid-loving plants.

When you have a newly planted azalea it is important to resist the urge to fertilize your new plant. You will want to hold off to protect the new sensitive roots. If you think that your soil needs some improvement, try adding some compost to the top of the soil after you have planted your azaleas.

Pruning After Transplanting

A large bush of Azalea trimmed in the shape of a ball. Lots of elliptical green leathery leaves and green buds on the bush. In the background, there is another azalea bush in the shape of a ball.
Prune your azalea after it blooms or even while it is still in bloom.

Azaleas do not always need to be pruned, they are typically well formed and if planted in the right spot will not overgrow. Pruning after transplanting is not recommended, since your shrub will still be adjusting to its new environment.

If you have some breakage or you do need to prune for size you will want to prune soon after your azalea finishes blooming, or even while the plant is still in bloom.

If you need to do some major pruning to an overgrown plant, or a plant with a lot of damage you will want to do this in the early spring before your plant has begun to push new growth.

Signs of Trouble

Close-up of an azalea bush blooming with snow-white flowers surrounded by yellow and green leaves. Semi-double bell-shaped white flowers with a yellow spot on one of the petals closer to the middle of the flower and long stamens.
The primary problems to watch for are wilting, leaf scorch, and lack of growth in foliage or blooms.

Once your transplants have been planted, it’s important to start watching for signs of trouble. if you watch closely, you may have enough time to remedy any potential issues that may pop up, saving your shrubs. Let’s look at some common post-transplant problems you’ll want to watch for.

Leaf Scorch

If you have planted your azalea in too sunny of a location you may notice some leaf scorch. This looks like yellow or brown spots on the leaves.

Leaf Wilt

Wilting leaves that may or may not have some discoloration on them could be a sign of poor watering practice. Check the soil to see if it is moist. If not, start watering a bit more.

Small Leaves or Flowers

This could be a sign of nutrient deficiency. Add some compost and keep your eye on the shrub. This will most likely resolve itself as the plant establishes further.

Final Thoughts

Whenever you decide to plant your new azaleas, keep in mind what these evergreen shrubs will need for overall success. If you have planted your azalea in partial shade and it is growing in well draining soil that you have been keeping moist you are already off to a great start. I hope the new addition of azaleas to your gardens brings your landscape lots of spring happiness!

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