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Growing Azaleas & Rhododendrons

November 4, 2021

True Organic Products

Growing Azaleas & Rhododendrons

‍If you’ve ever gazed upon a rhododendron’s many bright, clustered blooms, you can tell why it has earned the deserving title of “Royalty of the Garden.”

Rhododendrons and azaleas both belong to the Rhododendron genus, and their gorgeous flowers, cold-resistant leaves, and ease of care makes them incredibly popular for landscaping.

If you’re newer to caring for shrubs, these flowery friends are the perfect addition to your landscaping.

There are over a thousand varieties of rhododendrons! Evergreen and deciduous, low to the ground and taller tree-like varieties, with flowers of pink or white or even yellow. That means there’s definitely a perfect choice for your garden or landscaping. In fact, These flowering shrubs can be found in almost every part of North America, although they are native to Asia.


Soil & Fertilizing

Whilst one of the reasons azaleas and rhododendrons are so universally loved is how low-maintenance they are, they do have a few special characteristics that need attention, and for that reason, they do better and are easier to care for when planted in groups.

Azaleas and rhododendrons have shallow root systems, so a well-draining, moist soil is essential. They thrive in a lower pH soil, between 4.5 and 5.5, so a plant food with sulfur is very important, too. Most rhododendrons only need to be fertilized moderately, with a supplement that isn’t too harsh—which is why we developed a True Organic plant food blend just for them.

As buds begin to grow in early Spring, use the recommended application, being careful to avoid the plant food settling  against  the stem. We recommend a Fall feeding too, to prepare your shrub with plenty of nutrients stored in its bark come Spring.

True Organic™ Azalea, Camellia & Rhododendron Food contains 5% sulfur to help lower soil pH and improve availability of micronutrients. We also use other natural, organic farm-grade ingredients like ethically sourced poultry manure and ‍seabird guano (a great source of phosphorus and slow release nitrogen), and shrimp and crab shell meal for calcium and nitrogen.
Like most shrubs, rhododendrons benefit from a decent mulching in the Spring to protect their shallow roots and help the soil retain moisture in this important season.

Choosing Your Varietal

When shopping for rhododendrons or azaleas, pay attention to:

  1. When the plant flowers.
  2. What Climate Zone is right for them.

These two major differences will help you narrow down your choices. Of course, your local garden store won’t likely sell plants that can’t grow in your Climate Zone!  Check out your Climate Zone on the USDA website if you’re not sure what it is.

Early varieties blossom in early Spring; later bloomers will flower in July and later. A few varieties even flower in Fall. Many types keep their large, green leaves into Winter, making them very popular for colder climates.

Where to Plant

With so many different varieties of rhododendron and azalea, be sure to study the specific needs of your plant of choice.

While they can grow in so many diverse environments, they like it best in places with plenty of rain and moist summers. The amount of sun a rhododendron needs will depend on your climate zone.

  • In cooler and mild climates, choose a location in full or mostly full sun, where they’ll get at least 6 hours of full sun.
  • In warmer climates, plant in a site that receives afternoon shade, especially in hot areas.
  • In tropical zones, azaleas will bloom in full shade!

Remember that they have shallow root systems, so choose a location that either already has a moist, humus-rich soil to plant in, or a spot where you have enough room to create that environment.



These easy-care landscaping gems don’t need much pruning. Deadheading is always a good idea for Spring-flowering plants if you want to promote vegetative growth over seed production.

If you need to reduce height or really want to encourage more flowers, here are some pruning tips for your azaleas and rhododendrons:

  • Prune after flowering in the Spring.
  • Remove dead or diseased branches at any time of year, of course!
  • Always use a clean, sharp tool to take off spent flower stalks.
  • Remove dead flowers from rhododendrons carefully, making sure to not disturb next year’s buds, which are growing just under the old ones.

One of the delights of tending to rhododendrons and azaleas is enjoying their luscious blooms inside! When flowers are blooming, carefully trim your favorite blooms from mature stems to bring the beauty of these beloved flowering shrubs into your home.

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True Organic Inside Scoop with Justin

October 25, 2021

True Organic Products

Inside Scoop with TRUE’s Senior Vice President of Retail

‍Ready for a look behind-the-scenes at what we’re excited about at True Organic™? After two decades of supporting some of the country’s most popular large-scale organic farms, we’re bringing industry knowledge to your home garden.

We sat down with our Senior Vice President of Retail, Justin Comages, who has been a part of the TRUE® team since our very beginnings. Justin gives us the inside scoop about:

  • What to do to support your garden as Fall arrives
  • Plant foods that are perfect for every gardener
  • When to use single-ingredient food vs. when to use blends
  • And growing solutions from big organic farms that you can use, too!

It can be tempting to let go of garden chores as soon as Fall hits, but this season is actually a prime time for tending to soil health. Can you give us some tips for Fall applications?

Justin says: Before leaf-fall, it’s time for a full application for perennials like fruit trees, roses, and shrubs. We recommend both a Spring and Fall application, and people sometimes lose sight of the importance of that Fall application. Think of it as “putting the plant to bed.”

It’s important to get that Fall application done before a leaf-fall. Once those leaves are down, that plant has essentially gone dormant and it’s going to be “hibernating” until temperatures warm. That Fall plant food application gives that perennial a chance to absorb the nutrients and store them up into its bark or branches, so it’s ready to go in Spring.

Get the plant food into the ground, work it into soil well, then just let the soil do its job. That’s the beautiful thing about organic—we’re working with the soil, not against it.

Neglecting a Fall application can mean stunted growth and slow response to supplements in Spring, which can be harder challenges to overcome with organic practices.


We’re hearing a lot about the benefits of Prilled Sulfur lately. How does Prilled Sulfur help plants and soil?

Justin says: Prilled Sulfur is an amazing soil amendment that we added with focus on region-specific growing, and for gardeners who have a bit more experience. It lowers soil pH, which is going to be beneficial for most all plants, especially your landscaping. Sulphur also helps the mineralization and micronutrient uptake. Depending on your region, the existing soil pH could differ a lot. Now, I know this sounds pretty technical, but you don’t have to be a master gardener to start getting to know your soil better. You can start by doing a quick internet search of your region and “soil survey,” or even chat with the experts at your local garden center, nursery or farm and feed store. TRUE® has been providing organic fertilizer to large-scale farms for almost 20 years.

Have you seen any large-scale solutions that work great for small-scale projects too? 

Justin says: Definitely: liquid plant foods. Most home gardeners will really benefit from incorporating liquid plant food with dry.
For many years, large-scale agriculture practices only incorporated dry (granular) fertilizer for a simple twice-a-year application. That works well, but complimenting crops with an in-season application of liquid has helped farmers increase yield and quality in a big way.
There’s a mainstream belief that you can’t grow as much organically as you can with conventional methods. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
On a larger scale, we’ve seen organic farms yielding the same quantity as conventional. That’s huge. We have plenty of partner farms that grow more with organic methods than conventional. Of course, that’s thanks to a variety of different tried-and-true farm-specific practices—but one that’s been a major boost for our farm partners is that liquid application.

A green row of fresh crops grow on an agricultural farm field in the Salinas Valley, California USA

What’s your go-to TRUE® product for someone who is brand new to using plant food?

Justin says: Our All Purpose Plant Food. It’s such a perfect product that can be successfully used on anything that you’re growing. It’s easy to use and pretty much fool-proof! It gives you a security blanket to build on by balancing nutrients for healthy soil that can support healthy plants.

What about specific products that are perfect for California and the Western United States? Justin says:

First: the Herb & Leafy Greens Food. It’s such a unique product in the plant food space, and it’s a very near and dear blend to TRUE®’s heart. We support the majority of leafy green growing here in CA—some of America’s largest produce farms that put organic food on family tables all across the country—so it’s the product of decades of research and development, tried and true testing in the agriculture sphere.Second: Raised Bed Food. I’m proud of how we carefully developed this plant food for one of the most popular ways to grow here in California—where the square footage can get expensive! And last, but certainly not least: Berry Food. We support a lot of berry production on the west coast and we specifically formulated this product based on conversations with those expert berry growers. We put everything berries need into one bag.

What else makes those products so good for our region or other regions?

Justin says: That’s what is so exciting about all the products we’re crafting at TRUE®: they can be used and adapted wherever you live, for whatever you’re growing. Home gardening is much more flexible than large-scale agriculture. You can make a big influence with a small change. For example, if you have a short window to grow crops (perhaps further North in the U.S.), Blood Meal can help deliver fast nitrogen in a short window. Bone Meal will increase phosphorus and help a plant develop strong root systems. Our signature Seabird Guano is a potent ingredient that promotes verdant growth for so many crops (and you can read more about that in our interview with TRUE® founder Jake Evans).We want home gardening to be accessible to everyone, whether you’re growing a big veggie harvest or nurturing a single rose bush. The more you learn about what works in your climate and your garden, the more you may want to use those single-ingredient, specific supplements. But the wonderful thing about True Organic™ Blends is that we’ve pre-planned everything you need to support a specific plant—we really want it to be easy.

What else do you hear from people who are new to TRUE® products?

Justin says: The number one thing I hear is how much people love the ingredient consistency of our product—it doesn’t separate like some other organic plant foods tend to. You’re going to get the same exact homogeneous blend at the top, middle, and bottom of the bag.

After product consistency and homogeneity, it’s Food Safety. People aren’t afraid to use TRUE® products in the garden with their kids or in places where the family pet might run through.

The other bottom-line feedback I hear consistently is that these products just work. We formulated these products based on decades of research and development in the large-scale agriculture world, so it’s no surprise that home gardeners are stunned by the overall efficacy—but it’s always exciting for us to hear.





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Get To Know: True Organic Seabird Guano

JUNE 23, 2021

True Organic Products

Everything we do at True Organic™ comes down to this mission: to help you grow the most vibrant home garden while improving the health of our planet’s soil.

That’s why we’re so excited to chat with you about seabird guano! A completely natural substance with a truly amazing nutrient profile, seabird guano is arguably one of the most powerful plant fertilizers on the planet.

Even if you’ve never used guano before or aren’t even sure what it is, we’re going to cover everything you’re curious about.

‍What Is Guano?

‍Let’s cut to the chase. Is “guano” just another word for bird droppings? Technically, yes. But is seabird guano so much more? It sure is!

It has been used as a powerful soil supplement for centuries. In fact, the Spanish word guano developed from the word wanu in Quechua, a native language spoken mostly in the Peruvian Andes, but also in Ecuador, Chile, and other South American communities with Incan ancestry.

A Hero Helper For Plants & Soil

‍What makes seabird guano such a potent fertilizer?

It’s that 100% fish diet. Thanks to the birds’ fresh ocean buffet and the guano’s drying process (as it accumulates year after year, drying without being washed away by rain), seabird guano is a superhero for plants and soil.

‍Vigorous Growth & Soil Support

Altogether, the nutrient makeup of seabird guano encourages plants to grow rapidly and to develop robust flowers and foliage. That makes it perfect for leafy green vegetables, fruit trees, and any flowering plants.

Phosphorus (that “P” that you see on your fertilizer’s label) is especially important for fruit and flower development. Potassium (K) supports root systems and photosynthesis. Carbon (C)  and nitrogen (N) are essential foods for the soil’s microorganisms.

Feeding the soil with these macronutrients and carbon stimulates microbial activity—helping all the microscopic soil inhabitants like bacteria and fungi thrive. Curious about what makes healthy soil? Check out our blog all about the living world inside your soil!

Another beneficial aspect of seabird guano is its combination of readily available and slow-release nutrients. Plants get the nutrition they need right away, and some nutrients become available to plants over the crop cycle. This makes seabird guano especially wonderful for abundant vegetable production.

Over the last several years, our seabird guano-based products have grown in popularity with our agricultural customers—large-scale organic farms that you know and trust. We’re excited to introduce home gardeners to an ingredient that the best organic farmers in the world are already using.

Food Safe & Family Friendly

‍If you’re feeling iffy about using guano in your home garden, we get it! Especially if you’re newer to using earth-based ingredients to feed and fertilize your garden, you might feel timid.

Rest assured, our seabird guano—like all our products—is rigorously tested for food safety so you can confidently use it to grow food for your family table.

All of our products go through treatment that eliminates harmful pathogens, while leaving the microorganisms that are beneficial to soil. Those beneficial microorganisms are thermophilic, which means they’re able to withstand the pasteurization process that kills off other microbes that you won’t want in your garden.

One of TRUE’s core values and points of pride is our dedication to food safety. In fact, we’re the first plant food manufacturer with a structured food safety system in place. True Organic™ is the only plant food available that is made with a food safety process that is ISO 22000 certified from Bureau Veritas (a world-class food safety management seal of approval).

Sustainably Harvested in Peru

This precious resource comes exclusively from a set of islands off the coast of Peru, where it is sustainably harvested and the seabirds are protected. On these rocky islands, happy seabirds roost, soak up the sun, and—yep—take bio breaks.

Their guano dries on the sun-bleached rock (called curing), where it’s harvested or “mined” by scraping and sifting. Because the guano is a finite resource in a delicate ecosystem, the Peruvian government helps keep an eye on the maintenance and harvesting.

“The Peruvians take a lot of pride in their seabird guano,” says True Organic™ Founder and CEO Jake Evan, who has seen first-hand how dedicated the Peruvian teams are to sustainably managing the guano process. “The priority is maintaining bird health and nesting grounds.”

Sadly, the history of seabird guano is a harsh one. Before manufactured fertilizers were commercially available, farmers world-round used a swath of natural ingredients to boost their fields’ growth—and seabird guano was one of the most highly coveted. Because of unsustainable practices through the 1800, the seabird population drastically declined, local people and resources were exploited, and wars were even fought over it. It wasn’t until the 1900s that the Peruvian government recognized how vital it was to protect the seabirds and their habitat.

Thankfully, Peruvian seabirds and their islands are now vigorously protected. An environmental team is dedicated to checking on birds to make sure they are thriving. Guano is harvested only when the birds aren’t there, so it’s not disruptive to the colony and never disturbs their nests. Only a certain amount of guano is taken every year, and the harvest rotates between multiple islands. You can see why it’s so valuable!

We can’t wait to see what you grow!

When we examine how seabird guano helps plants and soil, it’s a great reminder that nature provides all the ingredients for thriving soil, oceans, plants, and creatures. Just like when we use the word “manure” to designate something more than bovine excrement, guano is a complex, nutrient-rich substance that is much more than simply “waste.”

Here at True Organic™, our focus is that holistic vision of a thriving world, from helping you grow your own backyard garden to finding the most sustainable way to use nature’s resources. We can’t wait to see what you grow!

Find a bag of Seabird Guano at your local gardening store with our convenient store locator.