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Volume 14, Issue 8 ~ February 23 - March 1, 2006

The Bay Gardener

By Dr. Frank Gouin

Naked Azaleas Are a Gardener’s Reproach

Foliage be darned, these flower buds are determined to grow

If the lower leaves of your azaleas are turning yellow and dropping to the ground, these are signs that your azalea plants are hungry. You should have fertilized them last fall.

The flower buds on your azaleas are now enlarging in preparation for flowering in the spring. Because there is a deficiency of nitrogen in the ground, the plant is stealing nitrogen from the older leaves and translocating it to the terminal flower buds. The transfer will continue until early March, when the only remaining leaves on your azalea plants will be at the base of the flower buds. The result will be rather open and twiggy looking plants with little foliage.

Had you mulched your azalea plants with compost or fertilized them with Holly Tone or a similar fertilizer last fall, your winter azaleas would have an abundance of dark green foliage still clinging to the branches. The compost or fertilizer would have been absorbed by the roots and translocated up the stem. thus allowing the older leaves to remain attached and dark green.

Most of the azaleas we grow in southern Maryland are evergreen. But when push comes to shove, the flower buds are determined to grow. They will draw nitrogen from whatever source they can. This means stealing nitrogen from the old leaves, which results in their turning yellow and dropping. It is too late to fertilize the azaleas now. Mark your calendar to do a better job of caring for your azaleas come fall.

Caveat Emptor

Q Do you know anything about a product called Rich Earth? Supposedly it is mined in Utah and has humic, ulmic and fulvic acids in it. I found some at a local nursery for half price and bought two 20-pound bags, thinking I would put it around my perennials before the growing season so it would leach down to the roots. There is a web site for it. Supposedly it is applied at the rate of one pound per 100 square feet.

—Elaine Lahn; by email

A I do not know anything about Rich Earth. Beware. Lots of products have never been tested by independent laboratories or universities. It is easy to make claims about things, and home garden products are full of snake oil boasts. Over the years, I have tested a number of products without ever seeing any of the benefits claimed. The biggest and longest lasting spoof is Wilt-Pruf. It is still being sold 20 years after I and others proved that it does not work as advertised.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.

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