Q. My azalea plants look terrible this year. They are coming back and blooming but it has been a slow process. This is the first time this has happened. I did not prune last year, but what is the problem and what should I do? Some say it will be a slow process for their return. Some say to pull them out and replant. I would prefer to keep them.
-- V.A.M. of Shiloh
A. Your photo shows the plant is 85 percent dead at the top and sides with just a few shoots alive at the base, close to the soil level. The damage was probably caused by the minus 15-degree temperatures we experienced this winter. The snow was covering the lower shoots and protected them from freezing. Snow is an excellent insulator from very cold temperatures.
Your letter does not indicate the location of your azaleas, such as which direction the plants face or if they are in an open sun location. They should be protected from too much of the sun's radiation when the soil is frozen. If they get too much sun, they will try to carry on photosynthesis and the water will not be available as it is needed with carbon dioxide to produce sugar. The plant's leaves will try to do this and will dry the cells out.
Azaleas and rhododendrons should be grown in a location with an eastern or northern exposure, not a southern or western exposure. They should also be protected from winter winds, which will dry the leaves out as well. If you cannot grow them in this location, you will have to protect them with a burlap wrap on all sides being held in place with four stakes.
It will be a long process to bring them back to the point where everything is healthy and full again. You can start by pruning off all the dead shoots. Then give these plants an acid-based fertilizer with a formulation of 5-10-10 for azaleas right now before the extreme warm weather begins. There is sulfur added to this to increase the acidity, as well as calcium, magnesium, iron, manganese and zinc.
Keep these plants watered with a deep watering at least once a week.
Your alternative is to tear out your injured plants and plant new azaleas in this location. You should have new blooms this coming spring. Trying to nurse your injured plants back to health, it may take up to three or four years to get them blooming as they did before.
Q. When is the best time to plant pumpkin seeds for jack-o-lanterns?
-- M. P. of Fairview Heights
A. The key to your planting time depends upon the number of days listed on the seed packet. This can range from 90 to 120 days for the pumpkins to mature. Once you know how many days it takes to mature, count backward from Oct. 31 and add two weeks to this number. It will probably be somewhere usually in mid-June.
Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Lifestyle Editor Pat Kuhl, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427. Or email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Do it now
ASPARAGUS: Stop harvesting it.
EARLY VEGETABLES: As the weather warms up discontinue harvest of radish (too pithy), spinach (change in flavor), and lettuce (bitterness sets in).