Knowing when to fertilize Encore Azaleas is crucial to getting the most out of your money, efforts, and plants. There are some gardeners that don’t want to fertilize their plants ever and there are some gardeners that fertilize their plants too much. Best practices lie somewhere in between, so we’re going to go over some tips on how to make sure you’re fertilizing your plants the right way.
The ideal time for fertilizing your Encore Azaleas is immediately after their spring blooms fade away. If you apply fertilizer before this bloom cycle (in late winter or early spring), most of the fertilizer will not be absorbed. This is because Azalea roots take in less water and nutrients when the soil is cold. Additionally, applying a balanced fertilizer in early spring may encourage your plant to flush out with new growth rather than focusing on bloom production, which isn’t ideal.
They have a natural foliage flush cycle that follows the spring bloom, so applying fertilizer at this point will bolster and improve this natural growth. It’ll grow more quickly and it will produce more foliage than it would without it. This is a great way to make sure that your plant starts the growing season off on the right foot and that it has the nutrients it needs to perform throughout the year.
One yearly fertilizer application in spring is enough to keep your plants thriving. But, say you just got your plants and it’s late summer or fall and you want to get your plants going in your landscape.
If there are two or more months between you and the first expected freeze of the year, you can feel free to go ahead and apply a slow-release balanced fertilizer to your new Encore Azalea planting. This way it will be able to produce new growth that has time to harden off before experiencing a hard freeze. If the new growth hasn’t hardened off by the time the first freeze hits, the new foliage will die.
If there is less than two months between you and the first expected freeze of the year, use a rooting stimulant fertilizer. This will encourage your plant to produce new roots instead of new foliage. The ground stays warm longer than the air, so roots are able to expand safely in late fall and even sometimes into winter. When spring hits, your plant will be primed to succeed in your landscape thanks to its expanded root system.
We also recommend that you avoid using liquid plant fertilizers with new plantings. When you remove a plant from a pot, root edges are lightly damaged by the side of the pot. If you use a liquid fertilizer, it’ll be absorbed almost immediately by these damaged ends. This will cause further damage to the roots which may set your plant back when it comes to getting situated in your yard.
There are pluses and minuses to using either of these types of fertilizers.
Inorganic (synthetic) fertilizers are the traditional, often pelletized, types of concentrated fertilizers with a reliable chemical makeup, such as 10-10-10 or 18-18-18. These fertilizers usually work very well. They provide a predictable amount of nutrients to your plants efficiently and they’re great for getting newer plantings going in your landscape over their first few growing seasons.
Organic fertilizers have grown in popularity in recent years. They’re sometimes sold as soil “supplements” because of the fact that their chemical makeup is often inconsistent. They may be made from fishmeal, compost, or other more “natural” sources.
Use whichever type appeals to you the most, or use both for different applications. We often recommend using the Inorganic fertilizer with new plantings for the first couple of growing seasons to ensure that they have quick access to the nutrients they need to get established in your landscape. After those first two or three growing seasons, switch to an Organic fertilizer to provide gradual nutrients and improve the quality of your soil.
So we discussed briefly that you shouldn’t use liquid fertilizer on new plantings. However, you can certainly use it once your plants are well-established. Just be aware that it will wash out of the soil relatively quickly, especially if you’re located in a rainy area.
Some gardeners like to use liquid fertilizers for foliar feedings. Foliar feeding is simply when you apply fertilizer to the leaves of a plant. The fertilizer is absorbed through microscopic openings on the leaves that you may remember from grade school, called Stomata. This is a good way to provide nutrients to your plant rapidly. This type of fertilizing should be treated the same as a traditional method and works best when done after the spring bloom or in late summer/early fall. We recommend this method for younger plants that may not have a considerable root system. For example, if you planted an Encore last fall and it’s the plant’s first spring in your yard. It’ll give them a kickstart for the new growing season.