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WILMINGTON — The North Carolina Azalea Festival kicks off one week from today. We've dealt with a pretty significant drought since last year's festival ended. So that had us wondering how the featured flowers would look for the event. Early spring in the Port City means azaleas. But after a year of drought, will the colors still pop as normal this year? Airlie Gardens Director Jim McDaniel says yes. "I don't think you'll see the effects showing up for years. As with any plant, as they stress and they stress and they stress, it opens them up to disease and insect problems," he said. The good news, McDaniel says, is that most of the azaleas around Wilmington are in good shape. But he says continued drought could cause problems in the future. Another good thing is all the rain this week, bringing plenty of color and healthier plants in time for next week's big event. "It will do a couple things for us. It will move the azaleas along a little bit. When a plant is stressed, its timing is off. This will help its timing back. It will put more energy into the plant. Some of the azaleas that are farther out, it will knock the blossoms off. That's just nature. But any rain will help the plants," McDaniel said. And McDaniel says there are a couple simple ways to keep the azaleas in your yard healthy after the blooms start to fade. "You're going to look right around mid April to that early June. Go ahead and prune them. Prune them hard. You want to keep the blossoms raked up. Any time you have dead flowers laying around any plant, it opens them up to disease. It's just good common gardening practices." McDaniel says there are about 80 different species of azaleas. The most common species in our area is the southern indica and the pinkish-purple variety called formosa.

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