Joe Zelenak
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Growing Azaleas...The Color of Spring
     Hi everybody and welcome! As many of you know, for the past 3 years I have been writing the Joe's Disco Weather Central Time Capsule. Well, we decided it was time for a fresh change. I am now going to bring you a column on horticulture and gardening. My experience with gardening and landscape goes back 26 years since this is the profession I do for a living. My experience has been mainly with K Mart, which is now Sears, where I have been a garden shop manager for 25 years. I also have had plenty of hands on experience with many of our great local nurseries such as Pinder"s and Classic Growers. I have also had many rewarding opportunities to help set up and prep garden centers for prestigious visits from top executives for K Mart to personalities such as Martha Stewart. In the coming weeks, I hope to bring you gardening information that is useful, informative and entertaining. I also will soon have a Website that will offer gardening information and tips and will also compliment the column. The site should be ready over the next couple of months. The site address will be HOMETOWNGARDEN.COM. My existing Website, HOMETOWNWEATHER.NET, is still online and is expanding by the week.
    This week I would like to talk about azaleas. These colorful plants are always a sure sign of spring when they burst into full color! Even though our Spring is still a few weeks away, now is the time to start planning where you want to show off these heavy bloomers. You should consider a location where the plants will only receive filtered light. They do not like full direct sun all day. An area under the eaves of your house or an area that receives filtered sun through pine trees would be an excellent location.
    If you want your plants to live a long and healthy life, proper soil is the key. Azaleas like a soil that is acidic with a ph of around 5.5. Generally, soil that is exposed to pine needles will be naturally acidic in nature and when mixed with a good organic soil, you have an excellent planting medium to give your plants a good start. You should also be sure your plants are in a well-drained area so they wont sit in water for long periods. Preparing a raised bed is the best assurance for good drainage.
    Once the soil is properly prepared, you want to apply a slow release fertilizer directly to the soil. Osmocote for acid loving plants is an excellent choice.
Once you have your azaleas planted and established, the rest is easy. The beauty of these plants is that they require very little maintenance. They are not heavy feeders and thus they do not need to be fertilized on a regular basis. The best time for feeding is after they have finished their bloom cycle in the spring. Always use a slow release fertilizer and do not let the fertilizer come in direct contact with the roots.
    Okay, you got your plants established, fertilized and your soil is perfect so what's next? The next step is to insure that your plants bloom year after year. One of the best ways to insure this is by proper pruning. You always want to prune and shape your plants right after they have finished blooming. Don't wait till the dead of summer to do this or you risk loosing flowers next season.
    Even though azaleas have a fairly short bloom cycle, the plants stay healthy and green all year long. Because of this they are considered evergreens. This is what makes them such a desirable choice for a year round plant. Just to summarize, azaleas are heavy bloomers, they are easy to take of and they do very well in both winter cold and hot summers provided they are in filtered sunlight.
    That's all for this weeks column and I hope you enjoyed it. I will see you next week with more gteat garden tips and information.


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