Most gardeners consider the azalea shrub as an easy plant to grow, if located in the most suitable environment. Azaleas can be divided into two recognizable groups, the evergreen azalea and the deciduous azalea, which drops all of its leaves in the fall during cold weather. Most deciduous azaleas grown in an ornamental garden are native plants of the American forests, and the group consists of approximately 16 species that vary in color from: white, pink, yellow, red and bi color.
Deciduous azaleas are native plants (16 species) to America and many other azalea species have originated in oriental foreign countries such as Japan and China. William Bartram first described the flame azalea in 1773 and recorded his observations in his famous book, Travels, when he explored the Southeastern U.S with his father John Bartram, both being natives of Philadelphia, Pa. William Bartram described the flame azalea in full bloom at the banks of the “Chata Uche River”, page 45, “was just ready to open its fragrant blossoms, and the gay azalea also preparing to expand its beauties” . Bartram wrote page 321, “The fiery Azalea, flaming on the ascending hills or wavy surface of the gliding brooks.” He further said that the name, ” fiery”, best expressed the appearance of the azalea flowers. Bartram described the colors of flame azaleas; “the colour of the finest red lead, orange and bright gold, as well as yellow and cream colour.” Bartram stated that every one of these colors could sometimes be found flowering on a single plant. Bartram vividly described the beauty of these virgin primitive plantings in the original forests of America. He wrote ” the clusters of the blossoms cover the shrubs in such incredible profusion on the hill sides, that suddenly opening to view from dark shades, we are alarmed with the apprehension of the hill being set on fire. This is certainly the most gay and brilliant flowering shrub yet known…..the plant exhibits a greater show of splendor.”
Evergreen azalea plants also drop their leaves, appearing to be evergreen, but they actually grow two sets of leaves simultaneously, dropping a few leaves in the fall. The azalea shrub is a shallow rooted plant, and it is one of those rare shrubs that can flourish when planted beneath the shade of pine trees. The aggressive root and extensive coverage of the underground surface of pine tree roots is dense and presents a difficult growing medium for most other companion plants to co-exist. Camellia flowering shrubs and dogwood flowering trees manage to grow well under pine trees as successfully as the azalea shrub. The filtered light of the pine tree is perfect for growing attractive spring flowering azaleas, camellias and flowering dogwood trees. Pine trees also thrive and grow well in acidic soils, having a soil pH of 5.5 or less that is also ideal for growing the azalea shrub.
Azalea shrubs rarely need any supplemental fertilizing. The shallow fibrous roots of the azalea shrub can be severely burned by fertilizer if overdone. Over fertilizing could result in root rot and lead to the eventual death of the plant. Shade tree leaves placed around the base of the azalea shrub will decay and release natural essential fertilizer elements and absorb the activated minerals to be taken up by the roots. Most nursery growers report that more azalea shrubs are damaged or killed by kindness than by negligent treatment.