Southern Gardening - Southern Indica azaleas give good performance | Home & Garden
By Gary R. Bachman
Coastal Research & Extension Center
If there’s a single shrub that could be called a staple in the Southern landscape, it has to be the azalea. Its spectacular flowering has made the azalea one of the all-time most popular landscape shrubs.
Here on the coast, azaleas have been putting on a show since they began blooming in early March. The progression of blooms will continue to north Mississippi by early April. One of the earliest-blooming varieties is the Southern Indica azalea. Whether used as specimen plants, hedges or backgrounds, the Southern Indica has to be my favorite azalea.
The blooms are huge, resembling rhododendrons, and they are produced in great quantities. The flowers are funnel-formed with narrow bases and bell-shaped edges. They come in many flower colors, ranging from vivid and sparkling to pastels and pure whites. Many have speckles in the flower throats.
Southern Indica azalea has the potential to be a big plant. Homeowners will comment that they have enormous plants and want to dramatically reduce their size. I’m often asked how much an azalea can be pruned back. Southern Indica azalea is very pruning tolerant and can be cut back as much as needed. Regular pruning can keep them smaller and result in denser growth.
Always do any pruning right after flowering. An easy way to remember this is to finish all your pruning before July 4. The flower buds for next year are formed early in the summer.
Azalea lace bug is a common insect pest that causes leaf speckling. Lace bugs are sucking insects that live on the underside of the leaf and leave telltale spots of black frass.
Another interesting insect pest is the azalea caterpillar. Its main body is black with yellow spots, and its head is red. These caterpillars can quickly strip the foliage off a plant. When bothered, the caterpillar will raise both its head and tail in a threatening manner, but it is harmless. The easiest control method is to hand pick the caterpillars and dispose of them.
The azalea root system is shallow and fragile. Avoid excessive raking and disruption of the soil as this can damage the fine roots. Once an azalea is planted in rich, well-drained soil, don’t try to move and transplant it again.
Mulch your azaleas with something organic like pine needles or composted oak leaves. This is a great way to conserve soil moisture and keep landscape weeds under control.
When watering azaleas, I like to use one of the acid-forming, water-soluble fertilizer formulations. Be sure the fertilizer has additional iron and other micronutrients. Give the soil around the plant a good soaking during dry conditions, and be sure to spray down the foliage.
Southern Indica azaleas enhance the home landscape with their beautiful spring colors, and their relaxed growth is perfect for informal garden settings.