A friend gave me her azalea before moving. Before replanting, I removed baby's breath that had wrapped itself into and over the plant. I even rinsed the root system to keep it from returning.
The first year, it didn't flower and the leaves were sparse. I attributed it to the transplanting. Last year, we expanded our deck, and I had to move it again. Now, there are no leaves, and I think the stems/branches haven't even extended. It is completely bare.
Have I killed it? Can I get it to come back? If so, how? And how do I help it become stronger? (Obviously, I'm new to caring for this plant)
Hardiness Zone: 5a
Li from Lisbon, ME
The complete death of an azalea plant is usually due to improper planting techniques (too deep), root problems due to excessive disturbance, poor drainage, over watering or too much fertilizer. Their growing requirements include full sun to part shade and well-drained acidic soil. The semi-evergreen varieties need some shade and winter protection. Unless you have acidic soil, you will want to fertilize with a specially formulated Azalea food. Azaleas are very shallow rooted, so be sure not to plant them too deep.
Because azaleas have shallow roots, it is quite easy to cause them injury by transplanting or cultivating around them. You were right to remove the baby's breath, as their shallow roots don't compete well with other plants. Unfortunately by the sounds of it, the roots of your azalea plant have been disturbed several times over the past two years from transplanting as well. In the end, all this activity may prove too much to recover from.
Performing a scratch test will give you a good idea as to whether you azalea is worth saving. Scratch the bark with a sharp knife or your fingernail to see if there is any green under the cambium. Start near the tips of the branches and work your way toward the base of the plant. If you see some green tissue under the bark, your azalea plant is still alive and has a real shot at recovering. Any dead or declining areas above where the living tissue starts should be removed. Older azalea stems often develop dead areas that if not removed continue to decline down into the crown at the soil line. When this occurs, the entire plant may die.
If you see signs of life, I would just let your azalea be for a while. Keep watering it and add some mulch around the base of the plant to keep weeds at bay and help conserve moisture (pine bark, pine needles, or leaves are good options for azaleas. Personally, I would avoid fertizling it now. You don't want to encourage new growth that will not have time to harden off before winter. You could also try some severe pruning (closer to the ground) to give it a fresh start.
I'm sorry to say that if all of the branches appear brown and dry then you may as well toss it.
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I think you may as well just bury it....sorry. It may have been too much when you washed the roots. They were probably disturbed too much. Then when you moved it again I'm fairly certain you finished it off. Also, they need a fair amount of water. If there are no leaves in June there probably will never be leaves.
Azalea is difficult to grow unless you feed it an acid fertilizer. It may not be too late. Try to replant it and give it in the proper soil and give it the proper fertilizer. It's a popular plant in the South. Read up on it on the internet. Your local college should have a site on agriculture.
I raise azaleas and to transplant, I always use root starter and then fertilize them regularly from March until September. I use the MicracleGro spray and have beautiful flowers. I do trim them back considerablly every year after they bloom.
Here's how to tell how much of it is still alive: starting at the tip of the twig, nip off half-inch sections with your pruners and look at the wood inside. When you see green, stop nipping.
I wouldn't give up on your plant just yet. Sometimes they take time to get established.
My real post is about how to make new plants from trimmings. I prune as needed and stick the pruning into the dirt where I might like to have a bush. It's worked for me with rhododendrons and azaleas so now I'm going to try it with hydrangeas and lilacs. I just stick the clipping in the soil. I don't even water it, and am surprised at how many grow.
Also, I've heard this even works with old rose bushes. I'd take it, not the hybrids.
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