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Michael Wheeler: Keep azaleas in tiptop condition by keeping pests away
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When azaleas have blossomed into a big green bush but have lost their spring brilliance, it is easy to forget they are there.

Here are a few things to do to keep them healthy.

Precise pruning

You can do a little bit of pruning until the first of July. Pruning now will promote new growth and encourage branching during mid-summer.

Master mulching

While taking care of the topside, be sure to tend to the underside.

Mulching azaleas is one of the most important jobs you can do to keep them healthy. Azaleas have relatively shallow roots and are subject to dry weather. Mulching will help retain moisture, make it more efficient when you irrigate. It also will keep the soil cool and weeds at bay.  

Fertilizing

If you have not done a soil test, a light application of 10-10-10 is in order. Fertilize at a rate of one tablespoon per foot of height. Scatter the fertilizer evenly underneath the foliage and water in well.

Attacking pests

We have received a few calls about azalea lace bugs feeding on azaleas and rhododendrons. Most of the calls or questions come through the office with the homeowner concerned about the “off color” of the plant’s leaves. After a few questions, we all figure the “off color” has nothing to do with lack of fertilizer, but to do with this insect.

Azalea lace bugs mainly can be found on the underside of the leaf, sucking on the plant’s juices. The damage is easy to recognize because the leaf has white to yellow flecking on the topside.

The insect is only about one-eighth of an inch long. It has transparent wings that are held flat on the back. On the lacy wings, two grayish-brown cross-bands connect in the middle. 

Spraying insecticides

The one thing everyone wants to know is “what can I spray to get rid of them?”

Many choices are on the market. A contact insecticide can be used, and on a small bush, it is probably the easiest way to treat. Any chemical that contains bifenthrin, permethrin or carbaryl will work well.

Another choice is a systemic insecticide such as imidacloprid. Systemics will provide good control over an extended period. These chemicals are applied to the soil and sometimes take two weeks to work.

With that said, a good dose of a contact insecticide maybe needed to get decent control.

Preventive measures

But before you buy an arsenal of insecticides, make sure the following things are done to prevent an infestation:

Plant azaleas only in partial shade. Too much sun will stress the plant and make it more attractive for the lace bug to feed on it.

Keep the plants healthy with proper planting, fertilizing and watering. Scout early in the season and stay on it. 

Any time you use an insecticide, read and follow the label directions. Remember that doubling the dose and going against what is recommended on the label can be dangerous to you and pets and harmful to the lake or environment.

Think about it this way, if the chemical manufacture could get you to use more of his product, he would since it would drive up his sales. Dosing limits on chemicals are there for a reason.

Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension office in Hall County. You can contact him at 770-535-8293, www.hallcounty.org/extension. His column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com.

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