Colorful azaleas play well in the garden with others

March is about green hills, daffodils and the beginning of spring.

The recent dreary days have us craving sunshine, warm days and flowers. Folks are probably behind in garden chores, so there is much to do in March.

Shade-loving shrubs such as azaleas and pieris rule spring gardens with their soft color palettes. Azaleas are the backbone of a partial-shade garden. They naturally grow wider than tall, making them useful in many landscape scenarios. Consider installing an azalea shrub if you need a foundation planting under a northeast facing window or you’re looking for a companion evergreen beneath a Japanese maple.

Azaleas need a good start at installation. They prefer a loose soil consistency for optimum growth, so install using a premium soil conditioner built for acid-loving plants. Dig holes wider than deep for good root growth and take care to massage the roots to loosen root-balls before planting. You don’t want azaleas going into the ground with roots looking like they just came out of the pot.

Azalea Phoenicia

Not all azaleas are alike. Some have proven to deal with our clay soil and hot summers better than others. Happy Days (purple), Alaska (white), Red Bird (double reddish-pink) and Phoenicia (bright magenta pink) are among the best.

Gorgeous flowers and foliage

Pieris is a fantastic evergreen with pendulous clusters of white or pink flowers that arch on long stems March through April. Pieris is commonly called a Lily of the Valley shrub, getting its name from the shape of the flowers.
After the flowers fade, pieris has an onset of fresh foliage. The display of new leaf is almost as dramatic as the flowers. The growth emerges dark red, just like a Japanese maple. The red contrasts with the rest of the shrub’s green foliage, and the difference in color is exciting.

Pieris Temple Bells has pure white flowers, while Pieris Katsura has rosy-pink flower clusters. Pieris grows slow and steady, becoming taller than wide. It appears layered when blooming. This shrub is nice grouped but is also successful planted as a focal point.

Getting Japanese maple in shape

Fertilize Japanese maple trees now, as their new leaves begin to emerge. They are susceptible to a soil-borne virus called Verticillium wilt. The symptoms of dying leaves and blackening stems are obvious.

Choose a fertilizer formulated specifically to feed Japanese maples. Look for formulas with low numbers such as 4-8-5, with additional mycorrhiza. The mycorrhiza helps them stay healthy from the inside. The healthier the trees are, the better they’ll be at defending themselves against pest and disease.

Crape myrtle shrubs and trees should be pruned now, but please don’t butcher them. Prune away last summer’s seed heads, remove crossing and weak branches, even out the overall appearance and remove twiggy, lateral branches.

This time of year, give a dose of granular multi-purpose fertilizer and water in using a fertilizer assist like Perc-O-Late Plus to push the fertilizer deeper into the soil. This feeding will be a wakeup for a new set of leaves.

Nicole is the Garden Girl at R&M Pool, Patio, Gifts and Garden. You can contact her with ­questions or comments by email at

Nicole Hackett
Nicole Hackett

Nicole is the Garden Girl at R&M Pool, Patio, Gifts and Garden. You can contact her with ­questions or comments by email at