Azaleas are beautiful plants known as the “Royalty of the Garden” because of their notoriously vibrant and colorful blossoms. The various shades of azaleas include pinks, purples, reds, oranges, whites and more. The number of unique blossoms for each type of azalea varies, as well as the shape of the petals. With proper azalea care, the plant makes for a wonderful addition to your garden.
Learning how to care for azaleas successfully does not take much time. The most important step is learning about the specific type of azalea you are bringing home. Some azaleas require more attention or different requirements. For example, the white azalea should be saved for climates that do not reach above 80ºF or so, since the white petals will shrivel up in the heat.
An azalea bush makes for a wonderful welcoming plant for your front porch, however, an azalea still makes for a lovely houseplant! With our information and tips to care for your azalea plant, we are sure your plant will thrive for years.
Azalea Plant Overview
Azaleas come from the genus Rhododendron, as do rhododendrons. The leaves of each plant from the Rhododendron genus differ — azalea leaves are much smaller and pointed, and the leaves of the rhododendron are much larger and leathery.
There are various sizes of azaleas, including low-ground growing azaleas that are one to two feet tall and azalea shrubs that can grow as tall as 25 feet! Azaleas can thrive either indoors or outdoors — their care all depends on where they are placed.
The temperature that the azalea is placed in does not matter too much as long as it’s not below freezing and has shade in a warmer climate. Be careful as well, since azaleas are poisonous for animals and children who consume the blooms. The best rule of thumb is to water your azaleas regularly until they are established with lots of blossoms.
Types of Azaleas
Azaleas have been hybridized for many years, and now there are over 10,000 varieties registered. The two main groups of azaleas include evergreen and deciduous. These two varieties drop their leaves in the fall and can be found almost anywhere in North America.
Azalea color and flower shape are the most distinctive features of each type. Some azalea blossoms have narrow petals, while others have overlapping rounded petals. There are some azaleas that grow five petals on their blossoms and some that have 10 to 12 petals. Read on to learn about some of the most common types of azaleas.
White Evergreen Azaleas (White Tsutsuji Rhododendron)
The white azalea plant is often grown in the eastern United States and requires more shade than most azaleas. The blossoms are large and consist of rounded white flowers. The foliage is a lighter green than most. It grows low to the ground and grows well in mass plantings.
Pink Azaleas (Rhododendron Subgenus Azalea)
The pink azalea plant is well known for being hardy and able to handle extremely cold climates, even below zero! The beautifully fragrant plant attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. This variety of azaleas has the most coverage in blossoms.
Lemon Lights Azalea (Rhododendron ‘Lemon Lights’)
This is part of the Northern Lights series of azaleas and beams a bright yellow color. The petals of the blossoms are open-facing and narrow. Interestingly enough, it loses all of its foliage in the winter, but its blossoms stay strong.
Orchid Lights Azalea (Rhododendron ‘Orchid Lights’)
The orchid lights azalea is covered in lavender/light pink flowers. The blossoms are trumpet-shaped with fuchsia spots at the ends of the branches. This azalea does carry fruit but it is not ornamentally significant. It’s also one of the hardiest azaleas.
Hot Shot Girard Azalea (Rhododendron ‘Girard’s Hot Shot’)
This azalea is an ideal size for shrub borders or low hedges. The azalea keeps a bright and fiery orange/red color throughout the year. The foliage is evergreen and the plant grows up to two to three feet tall and can spread about 24–30 inches wide.
Fireball Hardy Azalea (Rhododendron ‘’Fireball’)
One of the faster-growing azaleas, the fireball hardy azalea has strikingly reddish-orange blossoms with petals that look rippled. The foliage has tints of dark green and deep red. This azalea is a more compact shrub and requires little to no pruning.
How to Care for Azaleas
Whether your azalea is a houseplant or an outdoor plant, the care guidelines are the same. Show your plant some love with the proper upkeep or even create homemade plant food! A quick note: If you are in a warmer climate, purchase azaleas that come in a three-gallon pot rather than a one-gallon pot since small plants with fewer roots struggle to consume enough water in warm months.
Sunlight: The ideal place for planting your azaleas is in a happy medium spot. You’ll want to avoid putting your azaleas in full shade or direct sunshine all day. It is said that azaleas do best when they are planted in a spot that has morning sun and afternoon shade.
Water: Depending on climate and the amount of light your azaleas receive, watering requirements vary. Azaleas in a more shaded area and cooler climate prefer less water, about two or three times a month. If planted in a sunnier and warmer climate, water azaleas about one to two times a week. Keep in mind that azaleas are shallow-rooted plants and need to be kept moist, but are unable to tolerate soggy soil.
Temperature: Different azaleas can withstand various extreme climates. White azaleas cannot withstand temperatures that reach above 80ºF, as their blossoms will wither and fall. On the other end, azaleas from the Northern Light series can withstand temperatures as low as -20ºF. However, most azaleas are very hardy and can withstand average temperatures between 30ºF and 85ºF with no issues.
Toxicity: Azalea’s honey produced from the blossoms is toxic and referred to as “mad honey.” Dogs and cats are the most likely victims to poisoning from azaleas. The honey leaks all over the plant, leading to potential dangers. Severe toxicity is rare, but people who intentionally eat the plant can experience life-threatening symptoms.
Pests: Azalea lace bugs are the most common pests to affect the plant. A plant that has become a victim to lace bugs will show signs of yellow to white-looking foliage with clusters of black bugs on the bottom side of the leaves. To control this, insecticidal soap is the most effective in late spring or fall.
Azalea leafminers and bark scale are also pests that affect the plant. Leafminers rest between the upper and lower surfaces of leaves, causing browning or yellowing on the leaves. Bark scale causes the azaleas to be covered in sooty mold or appears as cotton masses within the joints of branches. In both cases, the best treatment is to remove the affected part of the plant and use horticultural oil.
Problems: Since azaleas are hardy, they are commonly planted in colder climates. This leads to potential frost damage, driving the plant to wilt and die. To prevent frost damage, cover the azalea shrubs with sheets or burlap when frost or below freezing temperatures are expected.
Azaleas are susceptible to fungal diseases, such as petal blight, rust and leaf gall. The best way to protect the plant from fungal diseases is by spraying it with a fungicide starting late spring until mid-June, every two to three weeks. If the plant becomes infected with a fungus, prune and dispose of diseased leaves/branches immediately.
Repotting: First, set up the pot by filling it up halfway with soil. Azaleas grow best in loose, well-draining soil. If you use potting mixture, it’s beneficial for the longevity of the plant to mix in organic mulch to create a loose soil mix.
When repotting your azalea, tilt the pot upside down and gently shake the plant out of the pot — do not pull the plant since this could damage the roots. Once removed from the original pot, place the azalea roots on top of the soil and mulch mix in the new pot. Once settled into the pot, scoop dirt around the plant without packing it. Fill in the gaps with new soil mixture. Lastly, fill the pot to the rim with mulch and leave an inch of space around the stem without any mulch.
Propagation: The two main propagation strategies for azaleas are stem cutting and planting azalea seeds. Depending on the method, your azalea plant will grow differently. Going the seed route, the new plant will grow to look like either parent or a mixture of both. Use the stem method if you want your new plants to look like the parent.
To root azalea cuttings, find stems that are able to bend, but not too easily. You will find these types of stems when the leaves are mature after spring growth. Trim the stem just below a point of leaf attachment. Remove all leaves from the bottom third of cutting and all flower buds. Dip the end of the stem in a rooting hormone.
Use a well-draining rooting medium. Insert the lower third of the stem cutting into the rooting medium. Water the cuttings slowly and place clear plastic caps (or slice the upper part of a clear plastic water bottle) over each stem cutting so that the moisture is held over the plant. Place in bright, indirect light and water when dry to the touch. Check on the stems often.
Within two months the azalea stem cuttings will grow roots. Check to see if there is a slight resistance when tugging the stem— if so, remove the clear plastic caps. You may also now place the plant in direct sun only in the morning. After four months, place each new azalea plant in its own pot until next spring when the plant can be placed outdoors.
Common Azalea Plant Care Questions and Concerns
How much sun does an azalea need?
Azaleas do best when planted in all-day dappled sun or where they can receive morning sun and afternoon shade. If planted in direct sun, make sure the azalea is only exposed for four to six hours.
Are used coffee grounds good for azaleas?
Yes, coffee grounds are great for acid-loving plants such as azaleas. Coffee grounds allow the soil to become more acidic, establishing more nutrients.
Do azaleas grow back every year?
The Encore series of azaleas grows back every year in the fall and spring. Other series’ of azaleas do not grow back every year, unless you prune them before mid-summer.
How do you prune azaleas?
When pruning azaleas to revive the plant, find a handful of the largest branches and cut them by a third or half. With the remaining branches, cut them to maintain the plant shape desired.
Welcoming guests to your home with azaleas is a great use of the beautiful plant, and with its hardy attributes, anyone in any climate is able to care for this plant. Truly, azaleas are the “royalty of the garden” since they are usually the first plants that catch the eye. Showcase your indoor azalea plants with DIY plant stands, that beautifully fill your home.