The azalea plant is a popular flowering shrub species in the rhododendron family. This spring-blooming flower lasts just a few weeks and there are thousands of cultivars of the species. The azalea is a very common plant in the United States. It is also a native plant throughout North America as well as Asia and Europe. Depending on the particular type of azalea, the plants can be deciduous or evergreen.
Azaleas are shrubs that flower in May or June, producing blooms that are typically pink, white or orange. The tube-shaped base of the flower contains a stamen that protrudes from the center. The leaves of the azalea bush are often evergreen with wooly undersides. The plants are found on rocky slopes, in woods or in the shade of other taller plants. The azalea can live for many years and continues to grow all its life. The plant will grow between 2 inches and 10 inches in a season depending on climate conditions, and may reach tens of feet in height in a lifetime. On the other hand it may spread as ground cover less than 1 foot in height.
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Best Growing Conditions
Growing azaleas is considered relatively easy. But there are some general guidelines to keep in mind when it comes to ideal growing conditions. Azaleas should not overwinter in areas with temperatures that reach less than minus 10 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. The azalea tends to enjoy considerable shade and grows well under the shade of nearby trees like the pine, oak or holly. Azaleas like moisture around their roots but do not grow well with "wet feet" so soil should be well drained. They also need to be watered regularly through early fall, long after the blooming season has ended.
Pests and Disease
While azaleas are popular partially because of their resistance to pests and disease, there are specific problems that these shrubs often endure. Among the pests that regularly inhabit azalea plants is bark scale. Bark scale is often found in the eastern United States and appear as a white, cottony mass on the branches of the plant. Infected branches should be removed immediately. Caterpillars also enjoy invading azaleas. The dark colored insects with yellow or white stripes are azalea caterpillars. These insects work in teams and quickly destroy the foliage on the azaleas. Lace bugs are a serious threat to azaleas. White foliage covered on the underside with small black bugs indicates an infestation. Insecticidal soap is generally the best cure for this pest. Azaleas are also quite susceptible to fungal diseases like petal blight, powdery mildew, rust and twig blight. Azalea gall is a new leaf disease that turns leaves brown that is specific to this species.
Azalea, like its cousin the rhododendron, is a toxic plant. The plants do contain a mild toxin. The effects of eating azaleas include abdominal pain and cardiovascular problems. All parts of the plant are poisonous, including the honey from the flowers.