Curing my azalea addiction

When we bought our house in August of 2011, I started paying a lot more attention to other peoples’ landscaping. Not only cause we were now homeowners and it seemed like the “homeowner-y” thing to do, but also because humans have a natural to tendency to want what they don’t have. And I had this:

And this:

Need I say more? Well, I will. Our “landscaping” was chaotic, at best. And those orange bushes? Literally, toasted. In my opinion, our house tends to be a little blah anyway since it’s very one dimensional from the front, but having no landscaping to help incorporate it into it’s surroundings and ground it just compounds the awkwardness and general blah-ness of it all.

See what I mean? It looks like it juts out of the ground and doesn’t belong. Poor, sad house. But I was bound and determined to help it. We’ve been working hard to whip our front yard into shape by adding a portulaca planting, re-edging and weeding the mailbox planting (which needs weeded again, of course), reclaiming some garden areas with grass and planting fountain grass, etc. This section was the biggest problem, though, and I wanted to get a start on it this fall so it could begin to fill in. And what better to go here than beautiful azalea bushes which love Arkansas weather?

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I have been obsessed with azaleas ever since we bought our house. I’ve  noticed a lot of these in our area and took it as a good sign that they were all blooming. When I started to think about what I wanted for the base element of the main planting in front of our house, I knew azaleas would be perfect.

But they’re more than a little pricey. Andrew and I are those cheap people that go straight to the “dying plant rack”, shop at the end of the season, or get clippings from other people and try to get them to root (or buy them for 50 cents each from a garage sale like our portulaca). We looked at Lowe’s first because we know they clearance their plants every fall, but they had no azaleas left (they didn’t have a large selection to start anyway). Home Depot apparently has a different model. Instead of discounting everything, they just stick up a bunch of signs that say things like “Fall planting is here!” Some plants are discounted, but fall is actually the best time to plant azaleas, so of course they weren’t. Apparently, the price was a little lower than the starting price point, but still a hefty chunk of change at $23 each! But we sucked it up and bought 6 for our 20′ long space.

Our azaleas are Encore azaleas. They have a really helpful website where you can see all the different varieties and colors, see which does best in your zone, get information about planting and care, etc.

We decided to go with the Autumn Lilac Azalea. We chose it for the color of the blooms, the leaf color, and the size. The brick on our house has kind of an orange tint, and we didn’t want to draw that out with a reddish flower. I love the fuchsia blooms, but our crepe myrtles are fuchsia and bloom from late spring to early fall. Also, the lilac variety was one of the few available at our store that had evergreen foliage. Some of the pink flowering ones have reddish leaves in the winter, and I’m not a big fan on red on orangey-red. Blech.

Last Saturday we finally got out to get them planted. With our yard, planting is a bigger task than you might think. Our yard is half dirt and half rocks, with lots of earwigs and a few black widows thrown in. (We ALWAYS wear gloves when working in our yard! Don’t want to anger a black widow and become its lunch!) The pickaxe method is the only thing that works to till up our yard. Luckily, azaleas need well-drained soil, which they’ll get here.

After tilling up the entire area and leveling it out, we lined the plants up and measured where they should be. The tag said they average 3′ to 4′ high and wide. We want them to grow together a little bit so they block sunlight from weeds below (aka less work for us), so we placed them 3 feet apart from center to center. In some of these pictures they look really close to the house, but they’re actually 2 feet away.

After they were all in the ground, we gathered up pine needles from under our pine tree and mulched around each plant. In the past, we’ve been kind of lazy about planting. We just plop them in the ground and hope for the best. Being that these were not cheap (at all!), though, we’re going to do everything in our power to help them along. The mulching helps keep moisture in and protects the roots from sudden changes in temperature.

We also planted two Japanese sky pencil holly trees (that we got for $8 a piece, down from $22), one on each side of the azaleas. We chose these for some height in our landscape. They’re supposed to be between 6′ and 8′, but they’re slow growers, so we wait. (See the rockiness of the soil? And you thought I was joking.)

They don’t grow out much, so we like the idea of this next to the front steps. The previous owners had a crepe myrtle there, but I imagine constant pruning would be required to keep it from claiming the front steps as its territory.

We left a gap between the first pencil holly by the stairs and the first azalea because this is our only spigot in the front of the house. Eventually we might get a hose box or at least a wall mounted hose hanger (and maybe a less noticeable hose). Maybe once the azaleas are bigger, you won’t really be able to see it in a wall mounted hanger anyway.

We’ll probably give the azaleas a year or so to start filling in, and depending on how quickly they grow might add in some other elements next fall or the following spring. Long term, we’re thinking some kind of monkey grass directly in front of the azaleas (which of course we would get for free from my mom when she divides hers) and then some kind of citron green ground cover in front.

Now how about some before and after action.

Aren’t they just so cute?! I’m in love with them. They’re everything I hoped they would be, which is good, cause what a waste of $150 otherwise. It really makes a huge difference in person. From the front, our house is really starting to look cared for and lived in. Before it looked empty and unkept…because it was (when a house sits empty for almost a year it’s going to look a little scrappy.) Now pretty much everything in the front of the yard looks maintained, purposeful, and manicured (ok, ok, except maybe the mailbox planting…pesky weeds). I just want to go do a happy dance in my yard and stare at my azaleas!

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