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If Treated Well, Finicky Azaleas May Bloom All Year : Although most are shade loving, some varieties will tolerate the hotter, more arid areas of Ventura County.

March 31, 1994|RODNEY BOSCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Spring is here and many gardeners are searching for a seasonally appropriate plant to complement path or garden.

While the often-biggish New Zealand Tea Tree, a previously featured shrubbery subject, can be an excellent hedge or screen, something small and containable might be more desirous. How about an azalea?

The generally low-lying family of azaleas can adorn a landscape in dramatic fashion, adding profuse blooms in vibrant reds, lavenders, orange blends, pinks and even white.

What's more, area nurseries are well-stocked with azalea types for spring planting, most of which bloom throughout the year.

"Azaleas are probably best used for winter and spring color," said Keith Lenik of Baron Brothers Nursery in Camarillo. "Not many shrubs bloom in winter, and azaleas can be the grandest."

Although much fussier than the easy-to-care-for New Zealand Tea Tree, the azalea flourishes in Southern California. Its needs are fairly simple, but must be strictly attended to--or else.

First, keep in mind that azaleas--a rhododendron descendant--are generally shade-loving plants. They thrive along the cooler coastal region, but there are also varieties that will tolerate the hotter, more arid inland areas of Ventura County.

The key, according to local nursery staff, is making sure you choose the correct variety.

"They can be tricky plants," said Maureen Shea, manager of Phil Lee Nursery in Moorpark. "If you're not careful where you plant them, they just bake."

Of the numerous varieties, Ventura County residents should choose from the Belgian Indica and Southern Indica.

Belgian Indica are fine for a cooler, coastal climate.

"The 'sun azaleas' are the Southern Indicas," Shea said. "They can withstand direct sunlight."

Both types feature lush and full evergreen foliage and abundant blooms.

When choosing a locale in your yard, keep in mind that too much direct sun will burn the azalea's smallish leaves. The plant fares better in filtered shade beneath tall trees. Eastern or northern exposure alongside a house or fence is another possible spot, but beware, Lenik said. "They can take full sun, but not reflective heat. You don't want to put it next to a white wall or any reflecting surface."

Now reach for the shovel and start digging. Carefully.

Digging the hole "is absolutely critical," Lenik said. Think of it as a rectangle or soup bowl, not a square, he said. It needs to be twice as wide as the plant. And the depth should be less than the root ball itself, Lenik said.

Azaleas demand soil rich in acid and organic matter. The root system must also be provided with soil that drains quickly, but retains moisture.

The answer in your yard may well be peat moss.

"Under ideal conditions, they prefer at least 50% to 75% peat moss to soil," Lenik said.

Details

* FYI: You will generally find that area nurseries stock azaleas in the five-gallon container size. Depending on the nursery and variety, this size of plant will cost $12.50 to $18. For the next couple of months, Baron Brothers Nursery (7568 Santa Rosa Road, Camarillo) is running a sale on azaleas: Their large stock of five-gallon azaleas start at $10.50. You'll also find favorable prices and a colorful array of the plants at Phil Lee Nursery (6005 Grimes Canyon Road, Moorpark).

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