How To Plant an Azalea, Camellia, or Rhododendron in Garden Beds
Azaleas, Camellias and Rhododendrons all have similar planting techniques. They all prefer an organically rich, acidic, well-drained but moist soil. For the most success planting and growing them, here's a breakdown of what you need to know...

Azaleas, Camellias and Rhododendrons grow in a range of soils provided the soil is well-drained, acidic, and somewhat rich in organic matter. As with so many other ornamental plants, constantly soggy or wet soils cause root rot and other plant diseases. When planting in heavy clay soil it's a good idea to add soil amendment to loosen the clay and improve drainage. More on that in the Planting Instructions further down on this page.

How To Test Soil Drainage  If you are uncertain about soil drainage in the area you intend to plant, it's well worth taking the time to test the drainage before planting. To test soil drainage, dig a hole 12" wide by 12" deep in the planting area. Fill the hole with water and let it drain. Then, after it drains, fill it with water again, but this time clock how long it takes to drain. In well-drained soil the water level will go down at a rate of about 1 inch an hour. A faster rate, such as in loose, sandy soil, may signal potentially dry site conditions and possibly a need to add organic matter to help retain moisture. A slower rate indicates poor draining soil and is a caution you need to improve drainage, plant in a raised mound or bed, or look for plants that are more tolerant of wet or boggy conditions.

Soil pH
Azaleas, Camellia and Rhododendrons grow best in an acid to slightly acid soil ranging from 5.0 to 6.5 on the pH scale. Most average garden soils range between 6.0 to 7.0 on the pH scale.

Testing Soil pH  Soil pH is a measurement of the alkalinity or acidity of soil and is measured on a scale of 1-14, with 7 as the neutral mark. Any measurement below 7 indicates acid soil conditions, and anything above 7 indicates alkaline. If you're unsure about the pH of your soil and whether or not it's suitable for growing Encore Azaleas it's a good idea to test the soil pH in the planting area. You can quickly test soil pH with an inexpensive soil pH tester probe. To raise the pH (make more alkaline) you can add pelletized limestone to the soil. To lower the pH (make more acid) you can apply Soil Sulfur, Aluminum Sulfate, or Chelated Iron. Adding organic compost to the soil or using compost as mulch can also help to increase acidity and maintain acid soil conditions.

Light Needs
Most Azaleas, Camellias and Rhododendrons appreciate life on the shady side. That said, at least 4-5 hours of direct sun in the morning or all day lightly filtered sun is recommended for best flowering.

Spacing Tips 
How far apart you space your plants will depend on how you intend to use them. 

Solid Hedges - If you are creating a solid hedge you can space plants 1 foot or so closer than the mature width. For example, if you are planting an azalea that grows 4 feet wide you could space plants 3 to 3.5 feet apart "on center,' which means from the center of one plant in the row to the center of the next plant. If you space much closer your plants roots may start to compete for soil space. 

Groupings - If you intend to plant several plants in a grouping, and want there to be space between each plant, space plants at least 1 foot or more further apart than their specified mature width. For example, if you are planting an azalea that grows 3 feet wide you could space them 4 feet apart or more "on center,' which means from the center of one plant to the center of the next plant.

Planting Instructions for Azaleas, Camellias and Rhododendrons

(Scroll down to see planting instructions for containers and pots)

Step 1
If your soil drains well, start by digging your planting hole at least two to three times as wide and no deeper than the root ball of the plant. The wider the hole the better. Place native soil removed from planting hole around the perimeter of the hole, in a wheel barrow, or on a tarp.

Step 2
Depending on the type, fertility and porosity of the soil in the planting area you might need to amend the native soil. When planting in dense clay or poor soil it is beneficial to thoroughly mix in some good organic matter, such as composted cow manure, mushroom compost, sand, and/or a good planting mix at a 50/50 ratio with the soil. When planting in very sandy, quick-draining soil you might want to consider mixing in some top soil, peat moss and/or compost to help retain moisture. When planting in fertile, loamy, well-drained but moist soil there is no need for adding a soil amendment.

Step 3
To remove your plant from the container it was growing in firmly grasp the plant by its base and try to gently lift and remove the root ball from the container. If the root ball is stuck in the pot either cut the container away or place the plant on it's side and gently pound on the side of the container to loosen the root ball. After having removed your plant from the container, loosen some feeder roots around the surface of the root ball. Azaleas are notorious for becoming root bound in containers. If root bound, you can spray the sides and bottom of the root ball with a stream of water from a garden hose. This will help to wash away some soil from the exterior of the root ball making it easier to loosen roots.

Step 4 
If you are planting in well-drained soil set your plant in the planting hole so that the top edge of the rootball is at or slightly above ground level (1-inch or so) to allow for settling. If your soil is moderately drained, which means it drains slowly after rainfall, the top of the root ball should be 2 to 3 inches above ground level. If necessary, add some backfill soil mixture to the bottom of the hole to achieve proper planting height. 

NOTE: If the soil in the planting area is poorly drained (constantly soggy or wet) you can create a mound of soil completely above ground level to plant in, or consider planting a different plant species tolerant of wet soils. 

Step 5 
After setting your plant in the planting hole, use one hand to hold the plant straight and your other hand to begin back-filling your soil mixture around the root ball, tamping as you go to remove air pockets. When you have filled the hole to the halfway point you can soak the soil. Then continue back-filling to the top edge of the root ball. If you are planting higher than ground level taper your soil mixture gradually from the top edge of the root ball to the ground level, as shown in the planting diagram above. To avoid suffocating your plant, do not put any soil on top of the root ball.

Step 6 (Optional)
When planting Azaleas, Camellias, or Rhododendrons in a location far away from a water source, you can use remaining soil mixture to build a water retaining berm (catch basin) around the outside perimeter of the planting hole, as shown in the planting diagram above. This basin will help to collect water from rainfall and irrigation often reducing the need for hand-watering. The berm can be removed after a couple growing seasons.

Step 7 
Next, deeply water the planting area, including the root ball, to a depth equal to the height of the root ball. For an extra boost, to stimulate early root formation and stronger root development you can also water you newly planted plants with a solution of Root Stimulator, which reduces transplant shock and promotes greener, more vigorous plants.

Step 8
Apply a 1 to 2" layer of aged, shredded or chipped wood mulch or pine straw around the planting area to conserve moisture and to suppress weed growth. As the mulch decomposes it will add vital nutrients to the soil that your plant will appreciate. Do not use freshly chipped or shredded wood for mulch until it has cured in a pile for at least 6 months, a year is better. Avoid placing or piling mulch directly against the base of your plant as this could cause the bark to rot.

Watering Tips for Azaleas, Camellias & Rhododendrons

Because they do not like constantly soggy or wet soil, avoid overwatering or planting Azaleas, Camellias or Rhododendrons in a poorly drained soil that stays constantly soggy or wet. Well-drained soil is a must!

When watering with an automated irrigation system it's best to set your timer to water during the early morning hours and not in the late evening or at night, which can lead to the onset of fungus and other foliar diseases. During the first few weeks after planting, check soil moisture often and adjust irrigation time if necessary to keep the soil moist, not wet. 

At Planting Time
Immediately after planting deep soak the soil in the planting area, including the rootball, to a depth equal to the height of the root ball. For an extra boost, to stimulate early root formation and stronger root development you can also water you newly planted plants with a solution of Root Stimulator, which reduces transplant shock and promotes greener, more vigorous plants. When planted during the winter dormant season plants will require less water. So, be extra careful not to overwater during winter! 

During the First Active Growth Season
In average garden soil you should not have to water your newly planted Azaleas, Camellias or Rhododendrons every day. More often than not, this causes soggy soil conditions that can lead to root rot and other harmful plant diseases. In the absence of sufficient rainfall, water only as needed to keep the rootball and surrounding soil damp to moist. Keep in mind that deep soaking less frequently is much better than splashing just a little water on your plants every day. Plants planted during the winter dormant season, when the plant is not growing and moisture is not evaporating from the soil as quickly, will require much less water. 

When established, Azaleas, Camellias and Rhododendrons are moderately drought tolerant. That being said, if you see new leaves wilting or tips of stems bending over during a drought, this could be an indicator that your plants could use a good deep soaking. Always check soil moisture before watering.