The South's Beautiful Azalea

The South's Beautiful Azalea

Need more spring color in your yard or garden?  Unsure of what to put in that shady corner by the fence?  Looking for a beautiful perennial that will offer you consistent, bright blooms for relatively little effort on your part?  Look no further than the South's own native azalea.  

 

Easy to grow and coming in a stunning variety of shapes and colors, the azalea may be one of the most beloved Southern perennials.  Shows, competitions and festivals are held across the South every year to celebrate its blooms! Ready to experience azaleas for yourself?  Below are some tips and suggestions to get you started. 

 

What are Azaleas?


    • These woody perennials (meaning that they come back year after year) are part of the Rhododendron family. Many azaleas are native to North America, and these varieties are deciduous (meaning they drop their leaves in the fall).  Alternatively, evergreen varieties hold their leaves all year.
    • Depending on your location, azaleas may bloom anywhere from early march to August.  Bushes typically hold their blooms for about 2 weeks. If you choose several varieties for your yard, you can select a range of bloom times for extended color!
    • Dwarf azaleas may reach less than 12 inches in height, while regular varieties can grow to over 14 feet. Varieties can also be upright or spreading.
    • Azaleas come in a variety of colors, spanning the rainbow from white and yellow, to pink, red, orange and even purple.  They can also be solid or variegated. 
  • Their blooms have incredible variation – they can be tiny, from less than an inch to more than 4 inches. In some varieties petals are rounded, like the ‘Wakaebisu’, while others are narrow and come to a point, like ‘Delaware Valley White’.  Varieties can have just a few petals, such as the ‘Midnight Flare’, or have deep, double blooms, like the ‘Bloom ‘N Again Snowball’. 
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    Azalea Needs:


    • Azaleas are somewhat flexible regarding shade and sunlight.  While some azalea lovers will swear you mustn't give them more than an hour of direct light, other say up to 5 hours is optimal.  With more sun, you will get fuller, bushier blooms, but the flowers may fade sooner. Keep in mind that some varieties have actually been bred to enjoy full sun, so choose which is right for you!
    • They thrive in slightly acidic soil. Plant an azalea next to a holly tree or oak tree, and you may be establishing a beautiful friendship!
    • They need good drainage and enjoy a thick layer of mulch to help moderate the temperature around their roots.
    • Azaleas are relatively pest-free plants that require little to no fertilization, making them a great choice for novice gardeners or those looking for a low maintenance yard.

     

    Hybrid V Non-Hybrid:

     

    Azaleas can be divided into 2 categories:  species and hybrids. What's the difference?  Basically, a species can be grown from a seed, while a hybrid is a cross between 2 species, and is reproduced by cuttings.  


     Azaleas have been cultivated for generations, and there are many beautiful hybrids on the market which have been developed for bolder color, longer bloom time, blooms in both spring and fall, and other desirable traits.


    Today one of the most popular hybrid azaleas on the market is the Encore series, which has been bred to bloom twice per year, in the spring and fall.  


    How to Choose the Right Azalea for Your Yard:


    Consider the conditions of your space.  Good growing conditions for many azaleas include dappled light, with 1 to 4 hours of direct sunlight, well-draining soil and regular watering.  However, some azaleas love full sun, so keep your light conditions in mind as you choose a variety suited to your yard!

     

    While the majority of azalea varieties thrive throughout the Southeastern US, some varieties are suited for very warm climates, and azaleas have been known to grow successfully as far north as zone 5. 

     

    One of the most important things to consider is what you already have in your yard.  A grouping of trees, a hedge, or the side of your house or shed could all help provide a good balance of shade for your azaleas.

     

    And of course, consider what color or colors you want to add to your space, and what height you are interested in.  Whether dwarf or towering, solid or variegated, soft whites and pinks or bold reds and oranges, you have so many options to choose from with azaleas.

     

    Growing Tips:

     

    • Azaleas improve over time! Like many perennials, a properly maintained azalea will grow bigger and bushier, put out better blooms, and may have a longer blooming season as it matures.  As you add azaleas to your yard you can mark their growth and enjoy seeing them flourish year by year. 

     

    • If you plan to prune your azaleas, do so right after they finish blooming.  This will encourage healthy new growth, without removing buds that are about to flower for you!

     

    • Finally, do your research before buying.  There are a host of online resources - the Azalea Society of America is a good resource to answer your general questions.  Consider also consulting a nursery, as they may know which varieties thrive best in your area. Want to talk to an expert about which varieties are right for you?  Click here to connect with the folks at Outside.com for suggestions for your region and your individual garden’s needs. 
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