Make careful choices when growing azaleas
Azaleas technically are rhododendrons but are distinguished within that family by their characteristics. Azaleas can be deciduous or evergreen, with small, glossy green leaves. The plants tend to be small and more compact, blooming in early to mid spring, while traditional rhododendrons are larger and bloom in mid to late spring.
CHOOSE CAREFULLY FROM AMONG THE HUNDREDS of azalea varieties, because not all of them may be hardy in your area. Many southern varieties have made their way north; they may do well for years and then a cold, tough winter can severely injure them.
THE ENCORE AZALEA SERIES IS A GOOD EXAMPLE of variable hardiness for us. While there are many to choose from, only nine or so are truly hardy north of Tennessee. ‘Autumn Rouge’ Encore azalea has been one of the hardiest in my garden; it was injured severely during the winter of 2014, but survived.
THE GABLE HYBRID GROUP, DEVELOPED IN PENNSYLVANIA, has been around for years. One of my favorites is ‘Rosebud,’ with beautiful, pink buds that slowly open to reveal a pink, double flower about an inch and three-quarters wide. It is a smaller variety, growing 3 to 4 feet tall and is semi-evergreen. The Girard hybrid azaleas are also popular. Like Rosebud, the plants are smaller and more compact. This evergreen azalea comes in white, orange-red, rose, and pink.
LOCATION IS A CRITICAL FACTOR when growing azaleas. Plant them in an area with acidic soil that is rich in organic matter, or amend the soil appropriately. They also require a site with excellent drainage, and prefer to grow where they get morning sun and afternoon shade. Azaleas tend to be shallowly rooted, so plants benefit from 2 to 3 inches of mulch. Protect them from cold northern and hot southern winds for best performance.
-Shelly Nold is a horticulturist and owner of The Plant Kingdom, 4101 Westport Road, Louisville, KY 40207.
Shelly Nold for the March 2015 issue