Azaleas on acid

About a year and a half ago, we planted 6 Encore Autumn lilac azaleas along the front of our house…and they looked awesome.

But now, they look like this.

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Granted, spring has just begun in Arkansas and they haven’t had a chance to green up yet (technically they’re evergreen, but in the winter they do lose a lot of leaves and the remaining turn yellow), but still. Not a happy sight. Not to mention they’ve barely grown (though their growth rate is supposed to be moderate to fast) and hardly bloomed.

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We figured they were just working on establishing roots last spring, but now we’re starting to get worried. Hopefully, as temperatures continue to rise, we’ll see some new growth and greener leaves. But we also thought there might be a deeper problem, so we ordered a soil test kit.

The pH of soil is a huge factor for the health of plants, and azaleas prefer a slightly acidic soil in the range of 4.5 to 6 (neutral is 7). So, I ordered this Luster Leaf rapitest pH test kit from Amazon (comes with testing container, dropper to add water, 10 capsules, instructions, pH guide).

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It was $6.47, and I got free shipping with Prime. It’s a cheap price to pay to ensure we don’t damage our azaleas by treating them with the wrong thing. And it comes with this handy dandy pH guide for all kinds of plants.

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I’m so tempted to test the pH of everything in our yard!

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The first step is to gather a soil sample. It recommends digging up a sample from about 3 or 4″ down. You don’t need very much at all!

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Then it recommends taking out rocks, roots, and anything else that’s not dirt, and then letting the sample dry out. I think we have less dirt in our yard than rocks, but I followed the instructions!

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After it was dry and broken up, I added a tiny amount to the test container up to the soil fill line. Then I opened one of the capsules and poured the powder in.

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Then I filled it with distilled water (recommended so that the pH of your tap water doesn’t alter the results). Lastly, I shook it really well and waited with anticipation for a minute or two. And yikes. This is what we saw.

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That is definitely alkaline. Not neutral, not acidic. Most definitely alkaline.

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I was actually fairly relieved, though. If it had been in the correct range, I would really be at a loss as to why our azaleas are so unhappy! Now that we know the problem (or one of the problems), we can move on to trying to remedy it, and fingers crossed, cure the azaleas of their winter blues.

Our first attempt was using a product by Miracle Grow specifically for azaleas and rhodies. Andrew’s mom had a tiny bit left and gave it to us, so we gave it a go. Simply dissolve 1 tsp in a gallon of water and pour around the plant.

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We only had enough to fill a 5 gallon bucket, though, leaving less than a gallon for each of our 6 azaleas. Also, this product is water soluble, so it’s not a very permanent solution. I did it a week ago, and haven’t noticed any difference. It has also rained several times since then, so in all likelihood, it already washed away.

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But since I figured the pH level was probably the issue, I already bought these azalea fertilizer spikes along with the test kit, and now that we know for sure the pH is wrong, I plan to put one behind each azalea bush. These are slow release spikes that are supposed to last the whole season and not burn the plants.

Hopefully, they’ll get the azaleas the nutrients they need for now, but they’re probably still not a long-term solution. The pH of the soil aids in nutrient absorption, so at some point, we might need to add some kind of sulfur product to increase the acidity of the soil, along with the occasional fertilization treatment. Who knows…but I’m determined to save these plants!

On an only slightly related note, we’re so fed up with our yard! (Related in that it also displays our lack of gardening/landscaping ability.)

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We have wild onions that grow like crazy, they don’t respond to any of our treatments, and the bulbs are almost impossible to dig up!

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This year we also have more dandelions than we’ve ever had, wild clover (which I’m not sure we’ve ever had before), wild mini hyacinths (which are actually adorable!), crabgrass, and who knows what else. We’ve tried treating ourselves, obviously with no success. See, our yard looks like this…

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While several of our neighbors’ yards look like this…

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Bermuda grass hasn’t greened up yet, so other than the patch of fescue under our tree, all the green in our yard = weeds. For anyone in the NWA area, we’re using Ace of Blades (they treat all of our neighbors’ yards, too). We’ve heard they’re way cheaper than Scotts, he said the product is non-toxic, and from what we’ve seen in other yards, they do a great job! He’s actually here spraying as I write this…here’s hoping it’s enough to kill those onions!

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