Azaleas – Proper Planting

Q: A few months ago I had a professional installer plant a large number of bushes around my house. He used a method that violates my own knowledge of planting. I was told his method was advocated by a UGA professor who had done a great deal of research supporting the technique. In planting azaleas, for example, he would merely dig a hole of sufficient width to accommodate the root ball, then insert the plant into the hole without doing a thing to the tightly packed roots. He’d stomp the dirt down around the root ball and that was it. After about five months of very little growth, I examined the plantings. I found pockets of air around and under some of those I looked at – plus mold, insects and slugs. I pulled several out of the ground and replanted them in a hole three times the size of the root ball. In the two months since I replanted, the azaleas are virtually exploding with new growth.

A: I can’t imagine whose installation research the installer is talking about. University of Georgia horticulturist Dr. Tim Smalley is the professor who teaches many budding landscapers. I have seen his excellent planting demonstration several times. He uses a shovel to loosen the soil in a wide area around each shrub and then plants it in the middle of the spot, untangling roots as he works. If your guy only dug a hole the size of the root ball, the roots won’t be able to grow very easily. All plants, whether tree, shrub or flower, benefit from loose soil in the planting area. Finding air pockets and insects around the root ball confirms that your installer is not doing the best job he could. Your remedy was just what the azaleas needed.