Bring azalea back to life

What Causes Azalea Leaves To Fall Off

Ask the Expert: Leaves falling off established azaleas
the azaleas in the front yard that have been in place for many years are suddenly losing their green leaves. any ideas.i am attaching two pics. Tim

Plant Expert Reply:

It is hard to tell from the picture. If the leaves are dropping from the bottom of the azalea, you have a pruning issue. See how the top of your azalea is shading the bottom. The top should not be wider than the bottom. When the top of the azalea is wider than the bottom, the lower leaves will become too shaded and drop off. That is why proper pruning is important. Most plants do better if trimmed like a pear shape – fuller at the bottom and gradually narrower at the top. This will allow sunlight exposure to all the leaves.

Other issue that cause azalea leaves to fall off are: too much water, insect damage, chemical damage.

If your area has been experiencing usually heavy rain fall, the azalea will start to drop leaves. Azaleas become stressed in soggy soil. When in stress they will drop their leaves. Correction for this problem is a well-drained soil or enough time for the area to dry before another rain or watering.

There are a few insects that will attack azalea and can cause the leaves to fall off. Lace bugs will give the azalea leaves a lacy pattern and can cause some of the leaves to drop off. Correction for this problem is to use the appropriate insecticide and a treatment of fertilizer.

Some insecticides and pesticides if not used properly can cause azaleas to drop their leaves.

In your case, I believe you have a water issue or a pruning issue.

This plant problem question was brought to you by Shreveport Florists.

Do Encore Azaleas Lose Their Leaves? (Hint… They’re Evergreen!)

By Allen Owings

One of the main benefits of Encore Azaleas – beyond their stunning blooms – is their evergreen foliage. All of the Encore varieties keep their foliage year-round as compared to native varieties of azaleas, which are deciduous (meaning they lose foliage in mid- to late-fall and new foliage emerges in late winter to early spring).

Winter Foliage

Autumn Amethyst Winter Foliage

Most Encores have medium- to dark-green foliage all year. On occasion, you will see Encore Azaleas with less green foliage – some of the white flowering varieties have lighter green foliage. Fall and winter foliage on some of the varieties – check out Autumn Amethyst™, Autumn Princess™ and Autumn Sundance™ for example – have purple to bronzy tinges as cooler temperatures and shorter daylengths set in. This foliage color change enhances the look of your Encores in the winter landscape.

As with all types of evergreen plants, Encore Azaleas drop foliage in the late winter and early spring as new foliage emerges. You may also see some natural defoliation of lower growing foliage at other times of the year – this would be contributable to drought or excess moisture stress, low soil fertility (lacking fertilizer) and shading from the upper canopy. Annual fertilization in the spring after flowering (using an azalea food) helps with foliage color. Also, having your azaleas growing in the recommended acid soil helps foliage color and vigor.

Types of Azaleas

Would you believe there are 1000 types and 800 species of azaleas? It’s true and a bit overwhelming! Breaking it down into something a bit more comprehensible, all types are classified as an azalea or rhododendron. While azaleas and rhododendrons are related, all azaleas belong to the rhododendron genus, but not all rhododendrons are azaleas. That being said, if you are searching for azaleas by the plant name, you may also see the word, “Rhododendron” on the name tag. To separate the two, Rhododendrons have larger leaves, bell shaped flowers and ten or more stamens. They grow best in the upper and middle south. While azaleas have funnel shaped flowers, five stamens and grow heartily most anywhere in the southern regions.

Azalea Varieties

Describing every type and variety of azalea, would turn this into a book rather than an article. So, to get familiar with this beautiful spring and summer showstopper, they can be put into four basic categories.

1. Species Azalea

Species azaleas consist of those that interbreed when isolated in nature. When planted, the seed of a species azalea will grow into the same plant as the parent; they grow from true seeds. Species azaleas are native to the United States.

2. Hybrid Azalea

A hybrid azalea crosses between different types or other hybrids. In other words, where species azaleas grow from seeds, the only way to reproduce a hybrid is from cuttings.

3. Deciduous Azalea

All azaleas native of North America are deciduous, which means they lose their leaves in the fall. They are more tolerant of winter. They are late flowering which will extend the beauty of spring. Many have foliage in shades of red, orange and yellow in the fall, before losing their leaves. The deciduous varieties normally grow upright and tend to be taller than evergreen azaleas. Bloom colors are white, pink, purple, red, orange or yellow.

4. Evergreen Azalea

Evergreen azaleas are native to Japan. The evergreen azalea retains foliage throughout the fall and winter months. The leaves of the evergreens are generally smaller than 2 inches. The main use of evergreen azaleas is in landscaping. Bloom colors include white, pink, purple, red and orange.

Choosing Azaleas

  • Just as it is with the main food groups, the choices are endless and are ultimately preference. Azaleas are much the same although not edible! Where you live may also come into play regarding extreme temperatures, soil types etc. Your decisions may include size, when they bloom and of course colors.

  • Azaleas are often grouped as to whether they bloom early, mid-season or late. Early flowering types generally bloom from mid-February through March, mid-season types bloom in late April and May, and late-flowering types bloom from June through October. As far as popularity, Encore is the best-selling azalea. The reason is in the name and due to its “encore” performances in the spring, summer and fall. Encore Azaleas have 31 varieties of deep, colorful bloom colors and sizes to choose from. They are hardy, low maintenance, sun and cold tolerant as well as giving your landscape a continuous show of blooms throughout three seasons.

  • The leaves, size and shape of azaleas vary greatly. The leaf sizes can be from 1/4-inch-long to more than 6 inches. Deciduous azaleas usually have large leaves, while the leaves of the evergreens are generally smaller than 2 inches.

  • Azaleas have the same basic requirements for soil and water. They need acidic, well-drained, organically enriched soil that should be neither too dry nor soggy. They love to absorb water through their foliage, so wet both the leaves and roots when you water.

  • For most, it comes down to flower type that makes the final decision. Azaleas come in a huge range of sizes, colors and blooming times to meet almost every landscaping need or personal taste.

Brown azaleas: Are these shallow-rooted plants victims of a hot, dry July?

Bill in Springfield writes: “My azaleas had been doing well, but I’m seeing light brown taking over the leaves. I have been watering them and keeping an eye on them. Any advice?”

Yes, Bill. Azaleas and rhododendrons are very shallow-rooted, which contributes to their being some of the thirstiest plants in the landscape — especially if they’re in full sun and even more so with the scorching temps and lack of rain we’ve been enduring.

So your problem could simply be lack of adequate moisture. Your statement, “I have been watering them,” could mean many things. The short, frequent waterings that many listeners confess they do are useless; you want to provide long, deep soakings. Let a hose drip at the base of the plants for several hours in the early morning at least once a week during normal weather when rain is scarce.

Up that to twice a week during really hot, dry times, and every other day during the kind of merciless weather we’ve been enduring.

Plant food does not come in a little green box

Bill in Springfield writes: “My azaleas had been doing well, but now I’m seeing light brown taking over the leaves. Should I treat them with some nutrition, like Acid Miracle Grow?”

Yes Bill, you probably should “treat them with some nutrition,” which excludes the chemical fertilizer whose name you just mangled a bit. The last thing any plant needs in hot, dry weather is to be doused with the concentrated salts in heavy-handed chemical fertilizers.

Instead, consider trying the product that came first for this purpose: Holly-Tone. It’s been around for over half a century (since 1949, I just learned from the folks at the parent company Espoma). It’s an all-natural fertilizer, and it increases the soil acidity of acid-loving plants like azaleas and rhododendrons. (It does this using elemental sulfur instead of the highly explosive ammonium nitrate found in similar chemical products.)

Apply as directed and cover with soil or compost to help get the natural nutrients to the plant faster.

Azalea and rhododendron 101

The leaves on Bill’s azaleas in Springfield are turning brown.

  • The most likely cause is inadequate watering. When the weather is hot and rain is scarce, azaleas and rhododendrons need our help. Let a hose drip gently at the base of each plant for a few hours in the morning twice a week; thrice if the plants don’t get afternoon shade in this heat.
  • Next is the soil not being acidic enough — although that generally results in yellow leaves. No matter what, it couldn’t hurt to use a natural product like Holly Tone to feed the plants and adjust their soil pH.
  • Or mulch them with an inch of milled peat moss (for acidity) topped by an inch of compost (for the ultimate slow-release natural feeding).
  • And finally, these are the last weeks you can safely prune these and other spring-blooming plants and not affect next year’s flowers. Be sure to water deeply after any pruning in this oppressive dry heat. (Okay, its humid — I meant “no rain”!)

Counterfeit compost

Josh in Annapolis writes: “This spring I had a landscaping company put down two inches of ‘compost’ in all of my beds. The alleged ‘compost’ is full of wood and plastic debris and is constantly growing thousands of mushrooms. I usually get a product called Leafgro, but my landscaper said that the gardening center he uses no longer carries that product. I’ve worked with this landscaper for many years and he is an honest guy.”

Then he was duped, Josh. Leafgro — an excellent yard waste compost made by the state of Maryland — is abundant (and, as you later discovered, was available at that gardening center all along). But the suspicious side of me (that would be my left and right side) suspects that a quality product like Leafgro might be a tad more expensive than what you got — which was half-composted wood chips (or maybe chipped-up construction debris, pallets and other wood trash).

This diagnosis is certain: You can still see some wood — a sure sign that the material is not yet compost, and those thousands of mushrooms seal the deal.

The Umpire of Horticulture says, ‘Get that outta here!’

Josh in Annapolis continues: “Would you expect legitimate compost to sprout mushrooms? Do you recommend removing this stuff and replacing it with fully composted material?”

Again, legitimate compost would not grow ’shrooms, Josh. That’s the (overwhelming) evidence that you got stuck with half-rotted wood chips (or wood trash).

And yes, I think that your landscaper needs to do the right thing and remove this mess and replace it with the Leafgro you originally intended.

FULL DISCLOSURE: The Espoma Company (maker of Holly Tone) provides national underwriting support for “You Bet Your Garden,” Mike McGrath’s nationally syndicated public radio show. These funds go directly to public radio. McGrath receives none of this funding or any other financial consideration from The Espoma Company (although the company that makes Miracle-Gro did pay him directly to make a personal appearance in the D.C. area in the late ’90s.* Go figure.)

*Yes, he did keep asking, “You know who I am, right?”

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In China, the azalea is thought of as the “thinking of home bush”. At ProFlowers, we find this cozy flowering plant a staple to have in homes and in gardens. These fresh from the fields flowers are ready for your care, and with proper nurturing they can double in size and last for years.

Your azalea plant will arrive boxed and in a plastic sleeve to keep it safe. To enjoy your plant, follow the instructions below to ensure you don’t bruise or harm it while unpacking it. In addition, follow these directions, as well as the one provided in the box, for long lasting azaleas.

1) Carefully remove the plastic sleeve from around the plant.

2) Completely (and immediately) remove the moss or paper shred covering the top of the soil and discard.

3) Pinch off any wilted blooms and leaves to avoid the plants energy trying to revive these. Try not to touch any fresh, open blooms. This will cause them to wither and wilt.

4) Water your azaleas upon arrival and always keep the soil evenly moist without overwatering. If your flowers appear wilted, they should perk up within 24 hours after watering. If soil is dry to the touch, give the azaleas more water. We recommend watering them over a sink to allow excess water to drain.

5) Do not apply a fertilizer while the flower heads are blooming. After flowering, feed the plant a very light, general houseplant fertilizer.

6) Allow the azalea to receive indirect sunlight daily. It should live in moderate (normal home) temperatures.

7) Encourage additional flowering by pinching back faded blossoms. If you do not pinch back faded blossoms, the plant will focus its energy on trying to revive them instead of feeding its energy on keeping the rest of the plant healthy and nourished.

8) If you want to plant your potted azalea outdoors, allow it to receive indirect sunlight. Also, temperatures outside cannot drop below 30°F.

Azalea shrubs are beautiful plants that make a perfect addition to nearly every garden. They work great in containers or planted in a lightly shaded area, they come in a variety of colors, and they bloom. A lot. First bloom usually happens in the spring, with another following in mid-summer, and more on through the fall. The flowering on an azalea plant will cover almost the entire shrub, adding vibrant color to your landscape. If you have an azalea plant in your garden, you might have noticed that it’s not blooming the way you’re expecting it to. In fact, it may hardly be blooming at all. That’s because though azaleas are easy to care for, there are some things to look out for, including drought.

We’ve had a long drought here in North Alabama, and the small amounts of rain that we have gotten may not be enough for these plants to continue blooming. Azaleas bloom on new growth, so if the plant doesn’t have enough water for it to actively grow, it won’t have as many blooms. Luckily, there are things you can do to help the shrubs get through the end of this hot summer and bloom again in the fall. Using a water hose, water directly on top of each plant. This will be much better for the plant than just using a sprinkler. You can also add some fertilizer on the top of the soil, but not too much because the roots of the shrub are near the surface of the soil. With a little fertilizer and direct watering at least twice a week, your azaleas should bounce back and bring a gorgeous fall bloom in just a couple months.

Azalea Problems || Flowers | Leaves | Plant | Related Pages ||

Azaleas are generally healthy plants when their basic cultural requirements are met. However, they are subject to a number of problems caused by infectious agents, insect pests, weather and nutrition deficiencies.

A few common problems and their control measures are mentioned here, organized by the affected parts of the plant. A more complete list of azalea problems is at azalea diagnosis.

Warning: Horticultural chemicals tend to work because they are harmful. Follow their label safety precautions such as gloves and other protective measures to avoid personal harm, and follow their label rates of dilution and application to avoid harm to the plants and environment.


Petal blight
Flowers first appear spotted, and collapse and appear water soaked in a few days. Dead flowers turn brown and cling to the plants instead of falling to the ground. Petal blight is more severe in cool, moist springs.

Petal blight is caused by an airborne fungus which over-winters on the spent flowers. Remove old mulch and replace with new in early spring. Drench soil area under plants with Terraclor in January. Spray with Thylate or Benomyl when blooms begin to open. Continue at 7- to 10-day intervals during bloom period. Good coverage is essential. Bayleton may be used when the buds show color. See ovulinia petal blight for a more detailed discussion.


Azalea lacebug
Upper surface of leaves has a gray, blanched, or coarse-stippled appearance. The undersides of the leaves become discolored by excrement and cast skins.

Spray undersides of the leaves with Malathion, dimethoate (Cygon), or acephate (Orthene). Repeat application every 10 days until control is obtained.

Leaves turn light green to yellow, then creamy white between the veins, while the veins remain green. Chlorosis is usually caused by the soil pH being too high, making iron unavailable to plants.

The soil pH may be lowered by adding ferrous sulfate, finely ground sulfur or iron chelate. Spraying the foliage with iron chelate has a dramatic but temporary effect. See mineral nutrient deficiencies for a more detailed discussion.

Foliar feeders
Various insects may feed on the leaves, typically notching the edges.
Spray the leaves with Diazinon or acephate (Orthene).

Leaf gall
Pale green or whitish fleshy galls, often quite large; leaves are curled or deformed. Leaf gall development is favored by cool, moist weather.

Handpick and destroy the affected leaves. Spray leaves with Bayleton, Ferbam, Captan, or a fixed copper fungicide. Start spraying at end of bloom period and continue at 2- to 3-week intervals until mid-June. See more details at leaf and flower gall.

Leaf spots
Brown or bronzed leaves, with tiny black fruiting bodies on the dead tissues. Irregular and colored spots on leaf.

Use Maneb, Ferbam, or Bayleton beginning at the end of the bloom period. Continue at 2-week intervals through growing season or as long as young leaves are present. Refer to the Bayleton label for application intervals.

Spider mites
Leaves become yellow-flecked with stippled areas. Fine webs on leaves may be visible with close observation.

Spray undersides of the leaves with acephate (Orthene) or dimethoate (Cygon). Repeat the application in 7 days to take care of egg hatch.


Leaves turn yellow and plants are stunted. They do not respond favorably to water and fertilizer applications.

No chemical control is available. Other conditions mimic nematode injury; collect a soil sample from root zone for nematode analysis. Check with your County Extension agent for more details, and check plant root rot for other root-related problems.
Scale insects
Usually found on twigs or branches. They can appear in various colors and shapes. Some look like bits of white cotton; others are brownish.

Malathion or acephate (Orthene) can be used as spray during crawler stage. Dimethoate (Cygon) can be used.

Winter Injury
Entire branches turn brown and die during the growing season. Look for evidence of bark splitting near base of limbs or at ground.

Use recommended cold-hardy varieties for your area. Keep the plants in good thrifty condition. Avoid fertilizer and cut back on water during late summer to avoid stimulating growth, then water heavily after the first hard freeze to provide moisture during the winter.

related pages

azaleas (parent page)

Dying branches on a red azalea

Individual branches began dying on a 35 yr-old red azalea that has bloomed beautifully for over 35 years. Image 2094 and 2095 show some of the new die-off. The large bare spot on IMG_2092 shows the space left by many dead branches that died this spring as well as a few new dead branches. How can I arrest this gradual die-off? These images were taken after i pruned it in may this year. History: For many years the azalea suffered from lace-bugs (on which a soap spray didn’t work) which I controlled with malathion. About four years ago, I had to treat a nearby dwarf Alberta spruce with Bayer 3-in-1 insect control and found that it also controlled the lace bugs so I discontinued the malathion. The azalea gets full sun in the afternoon. The soil is not compacted. It’s been pruned by hand into the ball shape you see, cutting the shoots and about every 5 years more severely to control size–always by hand, The azalea was purchased from, and planted by a local (Howard County) nursery. It’s about 3.5 ft in height, and is the only one of three like it, planted at the same time, with this die-off problem.


Azaleas are a long-lived bush, but nothing lasts forever.

(|The Times-Picayune archive)

Question: My azaleas are dying. They are approximately 35 years old. I water them regularly and they get good drainage. Since they started dying I have been feeding them azalea food according to package direction, but it hasn’t helped. They started dying about one year ago and until that time they were always full, green and very healthy. They get partial sun. The leaves all turn brown and the entire bush slowly dries up and dies. I have tried planting new azaleas to replace the dead ones, but the new ones die almost immediately. What can I do to get them healthy again? — Douglas

Answer: Unfortunately, there is not much you can do for you planting of azaleas. Like all living things plants get old and die. For azaleas, 35 years is a ripe old age. Your azaleas are losing vigor and weakening due to age, and that leaves them open to attack from fungal organisms that never bothered them before. This is not a problem with the growing conditions, they have been happy in their location and with the care you provide for them for decades. This is not a nutritional issue, and fertilizing will not help. This is an issue with the plants themselves. What is probably actually causing the death of the azaleas are root rot organisms in the soil attacking and killing the roots. As sections of the root system are killed, the corresponding upper portion of the shrubs no longer gets the water it needs, withers, turns brown and dies. As the root damage progresses, the entire plant dies. These fungal organisms have always been present in the soil. It’s just that now that the azaleas are old they are more vulnerable to attack. You should be able to get new azaleas to grow in the area, however. When you have removed a dead azalea, thoroughly turn the soil in the area and incorporate a two to four inch layer of organic matter. Plant the new azalea and drench it in with a fungicide such as Ferti-lome Halt. November would be an ideal time to plant new azaleas. Remember, the new azaleas will need more frequent watering next summer than the older, established plants.


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