Your Azalea Guide for South African Gardens

Azaleas are slow growing and need some extra care and attention to ensure constant growth and repeated flowering. Careful attention should be given to position, soil, shade requirements and protection from strong drying winds...

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Azaleas are slow growing and need some extra care and attention to ensure constant growth and repeated flowering. Careful attention should be given to the position, soil, shade requirements and protection from strong drying winds (of a Western Cape summer or the early spring winds in the summer rainfall areas of South Africa). The Western Cape winter wind is acceptable as it is normally moist and cold. Watering is required during winter in the summer rainfall areas.


The selected planting site should be partially shaded and it should offer protection from the midday sun. Position these plants where they will get morning sun and/or late afternoon sunlight. Planting azaleas under trees that provide light shade (Acer, Tipuana and Sambucus) would also be appropiate.

Azalea Planting Diagram
Azalea Planting Diagram


Azaleas prefer acidic soil and this is achieved through the use of matured cow manure and milled pinebark or peatgro (peat). These should be mixed in equal quantities and added to the soil used to refill the planting hole. Azaleas are not deep rooted and their planting hole must not be deeper than 45cm. The hole should be 45cm wide. Ensure that their feeding roots are just below ground level. 


It is essential that azaleas have good drainage and receive adequate water during hot and/or dry weather. One good soaking a week is recommended and care must be taken that the shallow feeder roots are not exposed or damaged. It is advisable to moisten the foliage on very hot days.


This is one of the most important aspects of growing azaleas successfully. Mulch is typically an approximately 5cm thick protective layer of coarse plant material that may include compost, peatmoss, bark or pine needles that is placed on the ground around the plants stem. The advantages of mulching include the reduction of the temperature of the soil which in turn saves water due to the lowering of evaporation rates. The area mulched should correspond to the width of the plant above ground. Do not use groundcover plants as mulch. Remember to renew your mulch as it decomposes.


Azaleas are naturally slow growing and therefor are not fast feeders. These plants are slow continuous feeders and the application of a small amount of liquid seaweed emulsion (Nitrosol or Seagro) regularly through the growing season would be sufficient for their needs.  Apply a solution of Chemicult or similar comprehensive fertilizer at three week intervals if the leaves yellow during the growing period until the natural green reappears.

Fungus and Insect Problems

Older plants may develop a lichen-like fungal growth on the older stems and branches. This is normally due to the plant getting too much moisture in summer combined with poor air circulation.  This condition is more likely to be associated with summer rainfall regions. This fungus can be controlled by spraying with Copper Oxychloride at the rate of one tablespoon per 5l of water once every two months during the growing season.

The treatment discussed above will also control the occasional development of leaf gall which is a swelling and hardening of the new leaves.  Leaf gall only occurs on certain varieties of azaleas and it is more prevalent in summer rainfall areas.

Container care

There are a few simple rules to follow if you want to grow azaleas in containers. Do not plant a small plant in a big container because these plants are slow growing and therefore do not need much space for their roots.

You should use soil that is a mixture of approximately equal parts of compost, potting soil and garden soil. Include a layer of bark or stone at the bottom of the pot to aid drainage.

Remember to add a handful of super phosphate into each container. Mix it into the soil thoroughly and water regularly with a mixture of seaweed emulsion from the beginning of September until the end of February. Apply this feeding in small regular doses and don't forget to mulch. Keep the container in a shady well ventilated position.

Trim lightly after flowering to maintain a balanced shape so that the new shape is developed while the plant is producing new growth. Try to form as large a crown as possible if you are growing them as standards so that the main stems are shaded by the well-developed crown. Keep competing side-stems pruned so that the plant does not lose its standard shape.

Questions and comments


The questions/comments section has been closed as of 1 Sept 2015

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Aug 27 2015, 02:56 PM
Mrs Lynette Tillett
I live in Natal, in a Retirement home, Pinetown. I would like to grow some |Azaleas in my front garden. It has shade during the day - sun in the early morning and later afternoon.Are there any varieties to plant which grow branching outwards instead of upwards? (spreading) And where in my area they are readily available?Many thanks
Aug 27 2015, 05:21 PM
You should not have any problems growing Azaleas in the conditions you describe. Just bear in mind that they prefer soils which are acidic. There are literally thousands of Azalea hybrids now and even if I came up with names for you, you would probably find that most of those are not grown in South Africa. It is said that, generally, evergreen Azalea varieties tend to have a spreading (rather than upright) habit. You have some fantastic nurseries in the Durban area. I'd strongly suggest that you go to some of the bigger ones and speak to the buyers there. They will have current knowledge of varieties and colours which you are seeking, and will either be able to source them for you, or direct you to other nurseries where you could try. So sorry I can't be more helpful on this one...
Aug 05 2015, 11:24 AM
How high & width of Azalea, please. Plettenberg Bay Western Cape
Aug 13 2015, 05:08 PM
Azalea varieties come in a wide range of sizes. There are very large types which have a spread of say 2m X 2m (for example the Azalea alba Magnifica) and then sizes all the way down to small bushes of about 40cm X 40cm. The range of colours is astonishing. So choose appropriately for the space into which you want to plant them. Of course there are hundreds and hundreds of hybrids worldwide, but only a limited selection would be available locally. I know you have a couple of really good nurseries in your area, so do go and ask them for specific advice before making your choice.
Dec 27 2014, 05:09 PM
I have two azalea brushes close two one another. One is slowly dying and the other is fine, they are in a semi shaded area on the north side of my house. The one that is slowly dying starts with one or two branches turning brown, then the next and so on. have mulched the roots in the winter and I am in Vanderbijlpark which does get pretty cold in winter. What must I do to get this shrub going again?
Dec 25 2014, 05:08 PM
I have a white azalea in a container and it grows beautifully but does not flower. Any suggestions, please? Ermelo, Mpumalanga
Oct 19 2014, 11:29 AM
Help ! 2 of my plants [bedded/dappled sun & potted std/full sun] are showing brown leaves. Why.
Also std is down at heel & leggy [hailstorm]. Would like to give it a more severe trim.
Oct 21 2014, 01:34 PM
The reason can be one of several, and you would have to choose between them, based on your situation. You don't say where you live so I'll just list some possibilities : (1) Wind burn. This is quite common where shrubs are in a place where wind causes loss of moisture content in the leaves, and usually manifests as brown tips or edges (2) Leaf scorch. Azaleas grow naturally in dappled shade, so full sun can damage them (3) Lack of water. Azaleas require a deep watering at least once a week (4) Lack of nutrients. Particularly nitrogen and Iron (5) Frost burn (6) Some form of disease. One needs to identify this before deciding on a Fungicide. It's fine to prune your standard Azalea when it has finished flowering i.e after Spring usually. If you wish you can prune fairly severely so as to regenerate the ball shape, but leave some foliage so that photosynthesis can still take place.
Oct 21 2014, 04:04 PM
Many thanx for your response "Rod". I live in Jo'burg and altho we've had high winds recently - nothing to suggest windburn. Apart from regular feeds my azaleas are given frequent amounts of used tea leaves [acid] and have always fared very well on it. Maybe I've been too generous with the std/potted one.
Oct 19 2014, 08:39 AM
Hi there, I live in the Pinetown area. I received a yellow azalea in a pot from someone and its flowering beautifully. I am only able to keep it in a pot at the place I live. Can I put it in a long pot and fill the bottom of the pot with something else to take up the space as I read it should not go into a big pot.
I want a longish pot as it would look good in between two alibaba type pots. Thankyou
Jul 31 2014, 04:07 PM
Hello Gents
Please can you advise us on what the ideal time is to prune azalea,they are the medium and miniture variety based in stellenbosch in the western cape,they have not been pruned for several years,perhaps some diagrams could be of help,thank you
Aug 05 2014, 01:45 PM
The best time to prune Azaleas is immediately after they have flowered. Azaleas typically flower in early Spring, although they can flower from late Winter until early Summer depending on the variety. Azaleas set their buds for the next year's flush of flowers after they have flowered this year, so the sooner after flowering you prune, the better. Regarding pruning technique : (1) Stand back and try to see in your mind's eye how you want the bush to look (size, shape etc.) (2) remove any obviously dead, weak or crossing
branches (3) choose the biggest of the remaining branches and cut these back by 30% (4) some say cut back to a side branch pointing in the appropriate direction, cutting as close as possible to the side branch - this would be my recommendation, but only for these biggest branches (5) others say don't be concerned about leaving a stub, new growth will be produced around and below the cut (6) remaining smaller branches can be cut back to preferably retain a natural shape of bush, not boxed or rounded (7) Azaleas, unlike Rhododendrons, form new buds all along their branches, so removing up to say 30% of the branch will still enable flowering next year. Each bush will be a slightly different configuration, so diagrams might not be that useful. First time pruners (especially of roses) are often nervous about getting the pruning done, but do not be concerned : nature is very forgiving and mistakes can always be rectified in coming years. Do sterilise your secateurs before tackling each successive bush.
Jul 31 2014, 07:37 AM
When is the best time to transplant them?
Jul 31 2014, 10:03 AM
Please scroll down from here, and you will find my Responses to two other people (Tarryn and Fee de Stadler) with the same Question as you have posed. By way of summary : the best time to transplant Azaleas is late Autumn or early Spring. Do it early morning or late afternoon, on a cool day and pre-prepare the new holes, making sure that the soil there is moist (water the holes if necessary). When you extract the Azaleas, try to retain as many roots and as much soil as possible in the root ball. Thereafter, follow soil mix, mulching, feeding and watering instructions as in the article.
Jul 22 2014, 10:45 AM
Good day

I would like to know when is it the best time to transplant azaleas. i stay in centurion
Jul 22 2014, 12:38 PM
Hi Tarryn, please scroll down to the Questions and Responses, you will find a Response I gave to Fee de Stadler regarding transplanting Azaleas. Her's was in a pot and she lives in KZN but the principles remain the same. There is plenty of detail on exactly how to go about the transplanting. And to answer your specific Question, late Autumn or early Spring is the best time to do the transplanting. Do it early morning or late afternoon, on a cool day and preferably after some rain which has wet the soil. Hope this helps you, and good luck!
Mar 05 2014, 06:09 PM
G de Beer
Where can I buy a yellow azalea in South Africa?
Mar 06 2014, 08:51 AM
Yellow Azalea is the Common Name for Azalea molle. I have never seen one, but I would guess that the best chance of finding one would be to approach an azalea specialist nursery. I only know of one such nursery around Cape Town - The Pink Geranium at Klapmuts where the R304 crosses the N1 Highway. Their telephone number is 021-8844313. There is an outside chance that Tulbagh Bosbou Kwekery in Tulbagh might have one. Phone 023-2300694. Failing the above, try to find the number of the Azalea Society if there is one in South Africa. You might get their contact details off the Internet. I do not know where in the country you live, so I'm not sure how you would get the plant delivered to you if you live well out of Cape Town.
Jan 31 2014, 03:24 PM
Hi I bought azaleas in a pot can I plant these in the ground. My friends say they will die in the pot. I am not a gardener so need advice please
It's me Tassnim again forgot to tell u that I live in kzn in Durban
Feb 03 2014, 01:42 PM
I suggest you take a look at my response to a query from Fee de Stadler (underneath this response from me). Although it talks about removing azaleas from the ground and then replanting them, the advice still holds for azaleas which are taken out of pots (rather than the ground!). Just two additional comments : (1) your azaleas should do better when they have unrestricted soil into which their roots can expand and (2) try to disturb the roots as little as possible when removing them from the pots.
Nov 26 2013, 06:08 PM
Fee de Stadler
Can I transplant azaleas in early December? A garden is going to be relandscaped and the azalea "got rid of". I am in Nottingham Road, KwaZulu-Natal midlands.
Nov 27 2013, 11:05 AM
Ideally azaleas should be transplanted in late Autumn or early Spring. Your area I think gets pretty hot in December so your best bet is to do the transplanting in the very early morning or late afternoon. Preferably also on an overcast day, and when rain has fallen the day before to cool the ground. Azaleas have wide rather than deep roots, so the trick is to save as much of the roots as possible, by removing soil only OUTSIDE of the drip-circle (which is as far out as the foliage extends). Try to dig out the plant with as much as possible of the roots and soil retained in a cone shape, pointing downwards. Immediately transplant the plant to its new location. Prepare the new hole ahead of time, including well-rotted compost and milled bark in whatever planting mix you use. You can perhaps use instant Acid Mix to save the trouble of making up your own mix. Also water the new hole before doing the transplant to keep the soil moist and cool. Finally mulch the azalea with milled bark or bark nuggets and water well to keep the soil moist. Results aren't guaranteed but I'd put my money on the above saving your azaleas!


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