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Some expert advice on a struggling azalea

I would really appreciate some advice on how best to rescue one of our azalea trees. 

About 2 months ago some leaves on a couple of branches started to brown, the leaves on those branches now are completely gone. 
More leaves are starting to wither and brown now also although only slightly.  Id estimate that about 70% of the leaves are still green so i hope its not too late.

Our soil is probably neutral / slightly alkali, we've used 2 tester kits although they don't seem to work.

We planted 2 azaleas and 2 camellias next to each other in Spring 2021 with lots of ericaceous compost, they get afternoon sun only. All have been fine up until a couple of months ago, they all flowered this spring and seemed to be healthy.  The other azalea is doing much better although it also has some leaves starting to curl and brown in places over the last few weeks.  The 2 camellias seem to be fine and still have all their leaves although 1 does have slightly yellow leaves.
Some unknown insects are munching on the leaves a little bit but that is the case for half the plants in our garden so i'm guessing its not the root cause of the trees poor state.  

We did go through a short period of not watering them more than once a week approx. 2 months ago.  That was due to me reading that Azaleas like to be in fairly dry soil conditions which i have since learned is not the case!

I'm really unsure what the cause is but assume it is either the soil converting to alkali
or the short period of getting less than ideal amounts of water.  

If any azalea owners could advise what they think is the problem and the best solution that would be great.  We're planning to remove our azaleas and Camellias and keep them pots with ericaceous compost but not sure if that needs to be done now or in Autumn

Thanks and sorry for the long email!



  • Pete.8Pete.8 Billericay, EssexPosts: 9,392
    If your soil is slightly alkaline it may be down to that alongside the drought and exceptionally hot weather we've had.
    If your soil is slightly alkaline, it will quickly overcome the ericaceous compost and turn it alkaline. Soil is a strong 'buffer' - i.e. it resists change to the pH.
    So if your azaleas are struggling a bit with the soil, then a drought and really hot weather comes along - they're not going to be happy.
    Azaleas grow naturally on the edges of woods and forests, so they like dappled shade ideally and a moisture-retaining soil.

    If you intend to move them into pots, I'd usually say Autumn would be best, but as they are struggling where they are it may be better to do it sooner rather than later.
    When in the pots, if you can use rainwater that would be ideal.
    Also use a fertilizer suitable for azaleas - I use Miracle Grow for Azaleas.
    I don't have any azaleas, but I use it for my blueberries that are potted in ericaceous compost.
    Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit.
    Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
  • bcpathomebcpathome Buckinghamshire Posts: 695
    Looks like sunburn to me .My azalea has it too .I just keep it watered and hope for the best .
  • firstforgardeningfirstforgardening DorsetPosts: 9
    Thank you both for your replies.
    I think the azaleas need to be potted to be safe. 
    I’ll monitor the struggling azalea and if it gets any worse will pot it right away but hopefully wait until Autumn if poss. Fingers crossed 
  • Nanny BeachNanny Beach Posts: 8,050
    Agree with the chaps above. They (and Rhododendrons,) are Japanese woodland plants, don't know who thought they like dry soil.most of ours, because we live in the dryest SE corner of the UK, hubby made a raised bed under a eucalyptus tree, filled with a couple of ton of Ericaceous soil... not compost. Our garden is north facing,but because it's a bungalow and not overlooked,in summer,the sun y is over the roof,we moved the potted azaleas, which get the most mid day sun under the tree
     We are still having to really soak every few days, weekly isn't enough
  • FairygirlFairygirl west central ScotlandPosts: 47,289
    I'd say a combination of the wrong soil, and dry soil, is the problem there.. 
    The Azalea family are shallow rooting, so they need regular, and consistent water. In dry areas, that becomes difficult, and the problem is that that the harm can be done long before the plant shows signs of failing. Once a week wouldn't be anywhere near enough for newly planted Azaleas, especially if you're in a drier location. When you add in the fact that there are other shrubs as well, the competition for that moisture is even greater, and the Camellias will be taking more of it at the expense of the Azaleas. 

    A decent soil [neutral to acidic] with plenty of organic matter - manure, leaf mould, good compost etc, and good moisture retention is what they like best, although they also need adequate drainage. The evergreen Japanese ones can cope with sun if they're right at the roots, otherwise, a shadier site is best. Again, in drier areas, shade is always going to be easier. 
    If the soil isn't suitable, you'd need to have them in specially built beds so that the soil can be made appropriate.  :)
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

  • firstforgardeningfirstforgardening DorsetPosts: 9
    Thank you everyone for the feedback, it’s very helpful and much appreciated. When googling these things I do find a lot of conflicting advice.

    The spot is very shady but it definitely sounds like lack of enough watering by a bad plant parent (me!) and the soil being slightly alkali. 

    Do you think acers will fare better in this flower bed? We have several acers we’re planning to plant next spring. Ive been told acers are less fussy than azaleas with soil conditions. 

  • Pete.8Pete.8 Billericay, EssexPosts: 9,392
    Acers also prefer an acidic soil to grow in.
    Some acers are fine in full sun, others prefer some dappled shade.

    You can get an idea of your soil type from here-
    Click on the Search tab and enter your postcode, the click on View Soil Information
    For my location it tells me that my soil is slightly acidic and acers grow well here -
    Soilscape 18:
    Slowly permeable seasonally wet slightly acid but base-rich loamy and clayey soils

    (I'm not sure the seasonally wet bit applies any longer... :))
    Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit.
    Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
  • Nanny BeachNanny Beach Posts: 8,050
    Yes,same as what I said Fairy.i do have a dark leaved acer in the ground,doing very well,but as I said my garden IS predominantly north facing. Sun apart from the patio,is early morning, filtered through trees during the day.
  • firstforgardeningfirstforgardening DorsetPosts: 9
    Pete I’ve gone to the link you sent for landis and put in my postcode but it just puts me through to this page (pic attached). Do I need to purchase one of these? 

  • firstforgardeningfirstforgardening DorsetPosts: 9
    Sorry I got there in the end. Couldn’t work it out on my phone but on the computer it was easy! It says soil type 3, shallow lime rich soils over chalk or limestone. Loamy and freely draining.

    Lime meaning our soil is alkali. That’s annoying as all my fav plants (acers, azaleas and pines) like acidic soil! 

    Do you think if we make a new flower bed specifically for these acid loving trees and fill it with 2 dumpy bags of Ericaceous compost that it will do the trick?!

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