Are Your Evergreen Azalea Leaves Turning Yellow or Reddish-Purple This Fall?

Joey Williamson, Ph.D.
Home & Garden Information Center

Many concerned South Carolina residents have phoned the HGIC this fall to ask about leaf color changes and what they might do to help their azaleas. In most cases the colorful foliage simply precedes the normal leaf drop in evergreen azaleas. Remember that no leaf lasts forever. The older leaves, further down the stems, will fall off during the late fall and early winter season, but new growth will occur in the spring as each stem begins to grow.

Some azalea varieties will show more colors than others. Azaleas with darker red or purplish red flower colors typically will exhibit some red pigmentation in their foliage as it senesces (ages).

Image depicts the reddish purple fall leaf color seen in some evergreen azaleas.
Reddish purple fall leaf color in azalea
Joey Williamson, Clemson HGIC

White and pale-pink colored azaleas will typically have bright yellow-colored foliage just before leaf drop.

Image depicts yellow fall leaf color seen in some evergreen azaleas.
Yellow fall leaf color in azalea
Joey Williamson, Clemson HGIC

Some nutrient deficiencies will also cause yellow coloration of azalea foliage, but if it all began during the cooler fall weather, it is probably just annual leaf drop. Don’t fertilize azaleas in the fall to correct leaf drop, but wait until new growth begins in the spring. Then fertilize lightly with a slow-release azalea fertilizer according to the label directions.

South Carolina has been under drought conditions this year, and a lack of water certainly can cause leaf drop in shrubs. Weekly watering of azaleas in the summer and monthly watering during the winter will stave off any drought conditions. Irrigate with one inch of water per week if there has not been adequate rainfall.

Mulch the azaleas with 2 to 3 inches of mulch such as pine needles, leaves or bark. This will conserve soil moisture and keep the soil cooler during the summer and warmer during the winter.

For more information on leaf drop, please see our fact sheet, HGIC 2353, Leaf & Needle Drop.

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This information is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service is implied. All recommendations are for South Carolina conditions and may not apply to other areas. Use pesticides only according to the directions on the label. All recommendations for pesticide use are for South Carolina only and were legal at the time of publication, but the status of registration and use patterns are subject to change by action of state and federal regulatory agencies. Follow all directions, precautions and restrictions that are listed.