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I bought an azaleas from costco. How do I take care of it?

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Azaleas and rhododendrons are some of the most stunning landscape plants available. When they are blooming, they can literally take my breath away. Unfortunately, Utah's soil is no friend to these species. You will need to pamper these plants and give them a lot of extra work to keep them growing vigorously and looking attractive. If these plants have special, sentimental value to you, the extra work may be worth your while, but for most of us, it becomes a tiresome struggle.

Utah's soils are high in pH because the great amount of calcium carbonates in rock (soil's parent material) was never washed away into the ocean like it was in most parts of the United States. This is because we live in the Great Basin - and water just drains back down to the Great Salt Lake (Lake Bonneville in ancient times). We also have very little organic matter in our native soil because we live in a high desert, and there has been very little precipitation fueling plant growth and decay over the past eons.

If you are bound and determined to grow azaleas and/or rhododendrons (or blueberries, for that matter), you should build a raised bed and fill it with lots of organic matter and just a little native soil. Fertilize regularly with an acidifying fertilizer, like ammonium sulfate and/or acidifying water-soluble fertilizer (like "Mir-Acid"). Alternatively, you can grow small azaleas in large containers filled with artificial media.

Personally, I would encourage you to look at some of the native species and/or better adapted species available. Each is beautiful in its own way and won't require such a lot of input for the return.

Good gardening!

Posted on 2 May 2007

Maggie Wolf
Horticulture Agent, Salt Lake County

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