23 April 2015

Azaleas! Plant them this spring

April is Azalea season in our growing zone 7 with landscapes and parks in full bloom everywhere we go. The southern states had their full bloom season last month and Oregon will get to celebrate the beauty of Azaleas next month.

The big box stores, garden centers and nurseries are loaded with a wide variety of container-grown Azaleas for your garden and this is the ideal time to plant them. But with so many sizes, colors and varieties to choose among, making the right choices can be challenging. 
Encore re-blooming azaleas at Lowe's


While most of us look at color as our first criteria, there are other qualities to consider such as size at maturity, length of bloom time, and the ideal location to ensure long-lived beauty.

Azaleas are close cousins of Rhododendrons and many garden books, websites and catalogs still put them together in the same section so look for them there when doing your research for the perfect plants. They are so close, in fact that growing instructions are almost identical for both.

Most Rhododendrons and Azaleas grown here were originally from the Himalayan Mountains, western China and northern India. Only few are native to Japan, Europe and the U.S. As a result they thrive best in acidic soil that has good drainage but is kept consistently moist.

Local Azalea grower Ray Wright said that Karume hybrids from Japanese grow 4-to-6-feet tall and wide, and have 1-inch leaves. Girard hybrids are an improved cold-hardy variety. They have lustrous leaves, large flowers and hardiness to -15F (zone 5). The flower colors range from white to pink, red and deep orange.

Poukhanense is a Korean Azalea that slowly matures to 10-feet tall and wide with magenta flowers so if you wanted a bed of Azaleas, plant the tallest in the back and the moderate sized ones toward the middle. There are many dwarf varieties for the front of the bed and to line a shady walkway.

In our heat, shade from the afternoon summer sun is essential for success with Azaleas. That all-important shade can come from a building, a solid fence or trees and shrubs. The other necessary condition that those provide is protection from harsh, drying, wind in the winter.

One complaint about Azaleas in general is that they are beautiful for such a short period of time during the growing season. Plant hybridizers have taken care of that for us now with Azaleas that grow a second set of flower buds after the first flush of flowers in the spring.

Because they continue to bloom for 6 months, re-blooming varieties are not completely covered with flowers at any one time. Since they prefer the cool and need time to re-grow buds they have more flowers in spring and fall with a sprinkling of flowers in the heat of the summer.

Included in the most common brand names you will find The ReBLOOM™ Azaleas from Greenleaf Nursery’s Garden Debut® collection, Bloom-A-Thon Re-Blooming Azaleas from Proven Winners and Encore Azaleas.

Greenleaf’s ReBLOOM (www.greenleafnursery.com) is bred to be more compact than their standard re-blooming varieties such as Encore and Bloom-A-Thon. ReBLOOM colors include Red Magnificence™, White Nobility™ and Coral Amazement™ this year. Next year will be the official release of additional colors. They are all cold hardy to -10 F (zone 6).

Encore Azaleas (www.encoreazalea.com) website has a drop-down menu where you can shop by both size and color choice. Proven Winners plants (www.provenwinners.com) are also widely available locally.


To see both Rhododendrons and Azaleas, visit Elk Ridge Garden (http://elkridgegarden.com) and Lendonwood Gardens in Grove OK (http://lendonwood.com). Both of these public gardens were planted by Dr.  Leonard Miller and are unbeatable locations for enjoying a spring garden walk.

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