When one thinks of winter, a few conditions come to mind. These are cold, frost, and wind. For avid Azalea growers, winter is a worry. Can Azalea Survive Winter?
Azaleas are quite hardy and are able to withstand USDA zones 5 to 9. However, they will require your help to survive winter and frost conditions.
How Cold Hardy Are Azalea?
Azaleas are commonly recognized as appealing plants that flower well and can even last wintery conditions. This makes them very appealing to gardeners who live in not-so-warm areas in the USA.
Azalea plants are hardy enough to withstand USDA zones 5 through to 9.
But this hardiness rating is not a guarantee that the plants will make it through winter. These plants can still suffer damage in winters regardless of their hardiness and will definitely still need your help when winter arrives.
You will have to make conditions more suitable for the plants if you want them to make it past each season.
For Azaleas, this means managing moisture, insulation, wind protection, and light. Providing this care will be crucial to your azalea plants surviving through winter to see summer.
Check out Can Azalea Grow In Clay Soil?
Will Azalea Survive Winter?
Azaleas are plants that love spring and summer. Obviously, this is reflected in its growth and flowering habits in these seasons. But when winter arrives, these plants switch from growing mode to dormancy.
The plants have no intentions of growing and only focus on making it through winter alive. So, will azaleas survive winter?
To put it frankly, an azalea can survive winter. But they will only thrive after winter if you act to make sure they don’t undergo damage in winter. If no effects are undertaken, the plants could undergo severe damage, possibly even death.
Once affected by severe ill-effects, azalea plants could find it very hard to recover from such conditions. You may find yourself having to take extreme pruning measures or even looking for a replacement plant
The reason azalea plants may not make it out of winter is that their root system is very shallow. When the ground freezes in winter, roots could be rendered useless without care.
Picking The Right Azalea For Your Climate
A great factor that has a major share in deciding the fate of your azalea in winter is its type and variety. Some azalea plants are better suited for the cold while others are suited for warm summer climates.
Most of the highly cold-tolerant azalea plants belong to the Pentanthera sub-genus. The most popular of these is the Northern Lights Group.
One particular example is the “White Lights” variant that is hardy to a temperature of -35℉ (-35℃) which is considered a Zone 4.
Tips To Help Azalea Survive Winter
Azalea plants are quite hardy and there are said to be hardy from zone 4 up to USDA zone 9. While this is true, they still need intervention from you.
You have to make efforts to fortify their shallow and somewhat vulnerable root system. Now that you know your azalea plants need help in winter, let’s find out how you can help them.
Illuminating Azalea Plants In Winter
Winters are a season known for cloudy overcast days that are rather dark.
On such types of days, it will not be possible to get their long intense hours of sunlight. Azaleas won’t mind the weak sunlight but may have issues with the falling temperatures.
On increasing temperature drops, your azalea plants will start to show some discomfort. The most obvious sign of displeasure for cold temperatures is the curling of leaves. The lower the temperatures, the tighter the curl will be.
Curling of Azalea leaves when temperatures approach and recede 32℉ (0℃) is natural. Preventing this from happening depends on your ability to stabilize temperatures during winter.
Adding some artificial light nearby your azaleas can do wonders. Even if the light just changes the temperature by just 4 to 8 degrees!
One odd idea mentioned was to even hang Christmas lights over your azalea plants! Well, at least the season fits for Christmas decorations. Winter in the USA usually begins in December and persists till March.
Azalea Winter Watering
Believe it or not, azalea plants can run out of water in winter. The soil should receive enough water given the weather conditions, but this is not so.
Since the azalea’s roots are relatively shallow, chances of the soils drying out are higher. This is due to higher rates of transpiration from the soil.
Generously water your azalea plants before frost sets in and freezes the ground. This will help to provide enough moisture to the soil. This helps them to withstand the entire winter without dying due to a lack of water.
But, that’s not all. During winter keep a constant eye on the weather forecasts. If there is rainfall coming, it usually is enough for the plants.
But if there is no rainfall and frost is approaching, water the plants. Additionally, high winds will increase watering requirements as they dry out the soil and plants.
Build A Windbreaker
Azaleas and some Rhododendron spp. do not take well to strong winds as it can break stems and damage buds.
Apart from this, wind can also increase the rate of transpiration from the soil and plants. This increase may induce drought conditions.
But winter plus high winds can be a cause for concern. A novel azalea grower should not ignore this as it can directly affect the outcome of the plants.
Build a structure to prevent wind from damaging your azalea plants in winter. This should preferably be done before the worst part of winter.
There are several options available to protect these plants from the brute of the winter wind. Here are a few methods of protecting azalea plants from the winter wind.
- Using three or four sticks, build a tee-pee-like structure. One end of each stick must be fixed into the ground while the other end should converge with the other sticks. Tie the sticks together at the point where they meet. Using burlap or some other mesh, cover the outsides of the sticks.
- Alternatively, you can use four sticks to make a square around the plants. Wrap polyethylene around these sticks several times.
- If your azalea plants are still very small, you can use a bucket to protect them. Get a bucket of adequate size and cut out the bottom of the bucket. Place the bucket top-down over the plants. Make sure the entire plant (and its top) is inside the bucket.
Building a ‘windbreaker structure’ around your azalea plants will give them every chance of being left undamaged by the wind.
Actually mulching is a year-round activity your azaleas can benefit from. It has a few benefits that directly affect the livelihood of the plants. Azalea plant roots are especially vulnerable in winter and summer due to their shallowness.
In winter, providing Azalea plants with mulch can help to insulate the plants and protect against cold and frost.
Mulching also helps the azaleas cope in spring and summer by making sure the soil retains its moisture. It does this by withholding water and by reducing the rate of transpiration from the soil. Thus making mulching important regardless of the season.
In terms of what to use for mulching, there are several options available and the gardener’s preference applies.
The following can be used as mulch for azaleas:
- Peat moss
- Composted sawdust/ pine saw
- Leaf mulch
NOTE: When applying mulch to azaleas, make sure it does not touch the basal stem. If it does, the moisture from the mulch may affect the stem and make it rot. Keep the mulch at least an inch away from the plant’s stem.
How Much Mulch Should You Use?
Mulch has the ability to help your azaleas throughout the year, summer or winter. But making sure the layer is thick enough is crucial.
Inability to correctly mulch your azalea plants will not help them through winter in any form.
When mulching using pine straw, you will have to use an extra thick layer to insulate your plants. Place a 6 to 8-inch layer on top of the soil.
Otherwise, if you are using any other material for mulching, a 3 to 4-inch layer should suffice. But, remember anything less than this might not be enough to offer much protection to your plants.
How Cold Is Too Cold For Azaleas?
Azaleas are relatively cold hardy but even then, a certain temperature will result in problems. Curling, yellowing, and even drooping may be visible in azalea plants struggling with the weather.
We mentioned above how the leaves of azalea plants will curl when temperatures plunge past 32℉ (0℃).
Anything below 25℉ will cause extremely tight curling as the plant’s leaves try to protect themselves from the cold. The leaves may even start to droop in response to the conditions at hand.
Some may even survive in -35℉, but scientists make these hybrids particularly to increase their hardiness.
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Can Azaleas Survive Frost?
Yes, azaleas can survive frost if you take the right precautionary measures before frost and snow set in. You must keep the snow and ice off your plants as much as possible.
Using a material (burlap or anything else breathable) cover the plants to keep the snow out. While placing a cloth over the plants, take care to make sure the fabric doesn’t touch the plants. If the fabric touches the plants, it may damage them or make them constantly wet.
You can use sticks to strengthen the fabric and hold it in place better. Make sure that you fix them well into the ground. Do this in advance to avoid risking your plants.
Covering azalea plants is especially important for:
- Young azalea plants
- Newly transplanted azalea plants
- Plants that have grown recently and have delicate new growth portions
New growth is very vulnerable to cold and frost may damage it, impeding its ability to grow after winter is over. Taking precautions will go a long way in helping your azaleas survive frost.
Azalea plants are very cold-hardy but in most cases will need help to prevent severe winter damage.
You can effectively protect your azalea plants by:
- Picking the right type of azalea
- Illuminating the plants with artificial light
- Keeping an eye of weather and watering accordingly
- Creating a barrier against wind
- Mulching with an insulating material
Do azaleas lose their leaves in winter?
Loss of leaves during winter depends on the type of azalea. Deciduous azaleas lose their leaves in winter but will regain them in spring.
However, Evergreen azaleas keep their leaves year-round and their leaves do not even undergo a color change.