RSM Gardening Tip of the Day: Azaleas Don’t Like Roundup


NOT to be used as azalea food

I don’t garden like Daddy did. He did it for real. He grew up dirt poor on a Tennessee farm, where you gardened if you wanted to eat. When he gardened, it was serious. Ever seen the kind of plow farmers would hook up to a mule? I watched Dad refurbish one of those and hook it up behind our Chevrolet 4-wheel drive pickup on a chain. One of my brothers or I would drive, and Dad would plow deep. Really deep. From the first pass through with a 4-Wheel Drive Plow, Dad laughed at Rototillers.


I’m more of an artistic gardener. It’s a craft to me, and my little plot of suburbia doesn’t get enough sun for vegetables. Besides, unlike Dad, I have little desire to grow bushels of pole beans and squash. So, I’m six years into a two-year plan that will probably end up taking about three decades to get the garden to the perfection that eludes me every season. Most of the time, all that I learned from Dad is invaluable, even in an artistic garden like I want. I know about soils and hard work and sweat and light requirements and bugs and blight. Occasionally, though, Dad’s Old South gardening ways get in the way.

Like with Roundup. It probably isn’t a good part of the flower gardener’s arsenal. But there was this vine, growing on my azaleas. It wouldn’t die. I’d pull it up, and it would come back. I’d hack it down, and it would sprout the next day. Of course, that’s when I heard Dad’s voice, clear as if he were still here with me: “Hit it with some Roundup, son.” Dad grew up with one weapon against weeds–a hoe. Well, make that two–a hoe and a whole lot of sweat. For him, Roundup was Nirvana. He could come home from work in his business suit, kill every weed in our brick walks, and still be fresh and clean when Mama called us into dinner.

So with that vine on my azaleas–the training was too deep. I hit it with Roundup. Just like Dad said. It died. Just like Dad said. I smiled. Then, weeks later, I noticed the azalea didn’t look too good.

Here’s where it gets pretty dysfunctional. I never made the connection. I’m looking online for Azalea Rots and checking its falling leaves for some kind of mite. If you’re born in Mississippi to a Tennessee father and you now garden in Alabama, you never blame Roundup. Even when the azalea dies. Roundup is your brother in arms. So when the vine makes a reappearance on the next azalea, I rejoice! Another reason to break out the Roundup. Dad would be proud, and despite my recent readings on environmentally sound gardening practices, I still know that “Hit it with some Roundup, son” is great advice at times. I haven’t touched a hoe in years, and I don’t plan to.

R.I.P., Lee's Roundup-ized azalea...

The vine died. The azalea got sick. The vine came back. I killed it for good this time, and then I saw I had two dying azaleas. Finally it clicked: azaleas and Roundup don’t mix.

Did I mention that I’m a science educator? I teach the next generations of science teachers in central Alabama. I’m a science kind of guy. I’m always thinking about atoms or Newton’s laws of motion or the movement of groundwater. But, I missed the whole azalea and Roundup thing.

Daddy would have laughed at me and my dying azaleas, in a good way. He grew up in a black and white world. Roundup was a good thing. Period. My world seems a lot more grey. This Southern Man thing gets a little tricky at times. The rules are different for me than they were for my father. I’m not even sure there are rules anymore, and that might be good. Maybe we are creating a New South, unchained from our past, like I’ve cast off the chains that towed Daddy’s old 4×4 plow. But I do know one thing for sure, and it’s still a black and white truth: azaleas don’t like round up.

2 Responses to “RSM Gardening Tip of the Day: Azaleas Don’t Like Roundup”

  1. I try to pull weeds, and for most of them, that works fine. But we have a kind of thistle here that comes roaring back unless you get the entire root, and the root breaks really easily. Probably it evolved that way to thwart animals just like me. So I hit these with Roundup. I use cardboard to keep it off nearby plants. But I still killed first one, and then the other azalea in my front garden. No other nearby plants were bothered. I’ve concluded that azalea are extraordinarily sensitive to Round-Up.


  1. Real Southern Men Bring the Funny | Real Southern Men - June 15, 2011

    […] Like gardening? Learn how not to do it from Lee Meadows’ exploration of the vices and virtues of Roundup. […]

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