The dwarf azalea is a type of shrub native to the eastern coastal areas of the United States. This North American native gets its common name from being a low-growing, spreading shrub. The dwarf azalea is identified under the species name Rhododendron atlanticum and is also known under the common name coastal azalea.
Azaleas are part of the Rhododendron genus. The plants grow 1 to 3 feet (about 30 to 90 cm) tall, with a spreading, rambling growth pattern. This diminutive native azalea is commonly found in the wild in boggy areas along stream beds and in sandy coastal areas, damp pine forests and coastal savannas. Like all North American native azaleas, the dwarf azalea is deciduous, which means it sheds its leaves in the fall.
The dwarf azalea has glossy green leaves with a slightly blue tint. The leaves are small, usually about 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) long. The flowers often are white or pale pink. Each flower cluster is made up of between four and 10 individual blossoms.
Like all azaleas and many other plants in the Rhododendron genus, the dwarf azalea cannot survive in alkaline soil conditions. Acidic soil conditions with a pH range of 5.0 to 5.5 keeps azaleas healthy and thriving. A planting spot in part or full shade is ideal. Dwarf azaleas work well planted under landscape trees, particularly trees that create an acidic soil environment, such as oaks or pine trees.
A planting location that gets good drainage keeps dwarf azaleas healthy and thriving in a landscape setting. Azaleas also tend to grow best in soil that has a high content of organic matter. Leaf mold, pine needles, sawdust, bark chips, peat moss and compost can be mixed into the soil to improve the nutrients and soil quality. A soil test prior to planting can help determine the natural soil pH and act as a guide for soil amendments.
Dwarf azaleas can be planted any time during the year. Once planted, the area should be mulched with a 2- to 4-inch (about a 5- to 10-cm) layer of organic material. The mulch regulates soil temperatures around the roots, keeping them cooler in summer and warmer in winter.
A mulch layer also traps moisture close to the ground, slowing evaporation rates. As the mulch layer breaks down over time, additional nutrients can be added into the soil. Mulch should be replenished each year in the spring or fall to bring the total level up to between 2 and 4 inches (about 5 to 10 cm).