"Don't worry about preparing the soil deeply since azalea roots are shallow and most are found in the top foot of soil. Instead, loosen the soil in a broad area around the planting site. If a soil test reveals that your soil is strongly alkaline, work in enough iron sulfate or ammonium sulfate to drop the pH to 4.5 to 5.5; your state's soil testing lab can give you guidance on how much of these materials are needed to acidify your soil.
"Water the pot thoroughly before planting and tease the soil away from the roots on the outside of the pot. Don't worry about injuring the roots; it's more important to remove a significant amount of the potting soil than it is to keep every root intact. Plant the azalea slightly higher than the surrounding soil since it will probably settle after planting. Finally, water the whole area thoroughly and apply a thin layer of shredded leaves, pine needles or pine bark to keep the soil cool and moist. Water your newly planted azalea weekly if the weather is dry, at least for the first year.
"Prune azaleas just after they have finished flowering. Remove individual branches back to the spot where they join a larger branch. New flower buds for next spring's bloom are set by midsummer, and any pruning after mid-June could result in diminished flower production next year. Avoid shearing azaleas since it results in a proliferation of unhealthy, twiggy growth.
"Check azaleas for wilting or dead branches in late summer that may be the result of fungal cankers. These branches should be pruned back to clean white wood that is not infected while the weather is dry to prevent the spread of diseases. Old azaleas that have grown too large for their space in your garden can be brought down in size by cutting the large branches back severely. New growth will spring from the stubs that are left."
What to do now
In the upcoming weeks in the garden, there are lots of tasks that can be done. While Mother's Day typically has been the gold standard as to when to plant delicate perennials, this mild winter/early spring means you may be safe from frost earlier that that first Sunday in May.
After the blooms are spent, prune azaleas, viburnum, forsythia and lilac.
Also, be sure to check out http://anr.ext.wvu.edu/lawn_garden/lawn for great tips for a lush lawn this summer! There are tips about lawnmower safety, liming the lawn, avoiding lawn problems, mulching mowers and establishing turfgrass.
Reach Sara Busse at sara.bu...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.