Azalea in the winter

My Rhododendrons Are Losing Leaves This Fall – Is This Normal?

Rhododendrons and Azaleas, what is the difference anyway?

All Rhododendrons are evergreen which means that they will hold leaves all winter long. Most Azaleas on the other hand (under the same Genus of Rhododendron) will lose their leaves at the end of the season. The other difference is that true Rhododendrons have ten or more stamens, 2 per lobe and Azaleas have only five stamens – one per lobe and 5 lobes in a flower.

The above picture of a Rhododendron showing its nice red-purple fall color. Notice the older leaves will color and drop even though it is an evergreen. The newer leaves are at the tips of the branches and will be retained all winter long.

Azaleas typically have nice fall as well and many will lose their leaves later in the season. Sometimes Azaleas in warmer climates hold their leaves.

Rhododendrons appreciate good fall moisture and love to have a nice 3” layer of mulch over their roots. The older, more interior red-purple leaves will drop from the plant and it is a very normal occurrence.

In colder climates and where your plants are exposed to winter winds you may want to consider some wind protection or maybe a spray on anti-transpirant later in the season to prevent the leaves from drying out.

Both Rhododendrons and Azaleas are best pruned right after they bloom in spring only so hold off pruning this fall.

Q: We’ve been in our house for 4 years, and I don’t remember our azaleas ever looking like this in the fall or winter. The older leaves are yellow and turning red. Is this something I should worry about or do I just have a poor memory?

A: You’re not old enough to have a poor memory!

I, on the other hand, can barely remember where I put my cereal spoon!

You have to keep in mind that although we think of azaleas as evergreen, they are, to varying degrees, semi-deciduous. They drop a certain percentage of leaves each winter.

Large-leaved varieties, like the Indica clan seem more likely to show marked yellowing than the Kurume group.

Azalea growers struggle with leaf drop every year. Much research has been done but varying amounts of fertilizer seems not to have much effect.

In other words, what you’re seeing is normal behavior for azaleas and rhododendrons. The yellow leaves are those that were produced back in spring, when life looked good for the plant. They are more delicate than leaves produced in summer, so they are the first to drop when cold weather arrives. As long as the leaves on the tips of your azalea are green, the plant is healthy. It will fill in with more leaves next year.

Tags For This Article: azalea

Beautiful evergreen azaleas that bloom in spring and again in fall are among the best low-care shrubs for warm climates. Plus, these vigorous azaleas are available in a huge range of colors. Some require full sun while others are more tolerant of cold and shade. You may want to include both types in your yard.

All reblooming azaleas require little maintenance once established, but benefit from special winter care for the first two years after planting.

Winter Care of Reblooming Azaleas:

  1. Provide occasional deep drenches of water on mild winter days. Azaleas develop extensive roots just below the soil’s surface, and the root zones can dry out quickly. Azaleas take up water through their leaves and their roots, so it’s fine to wash down the plants with a fine spray as you water.
  2. Renew mulch around azaleas whenever soil is moist. Keep mulch 3 inches deep, which usually means replenishing it twice a year. Pine bark, pine needles and wood chips are good mulches for azaleas because they help support the acidic soil conditions that azaleas prefer.
  3. Cover plants with old sheets or other cloth when a winter storm is predicted. Sudden cold snaps or prolonged ice storms can lead to partial dieback of azalea branches.

Tip:

Wait until the plants leaf out in spring to trim out any dead stems. After the plants bloom in late spring, prune them lightly to balance their shape, followed by an annual feeding with an azalea fertilizer.

Product Checklist:

  • Garden hose
  • Watering wand
  • Gardening gloves
  • Pine straw, bark or hardwood mulch
  • Plant cover
  • Pruning shears
  • Azalea fertilizer

Winterize Azaleas Using Burlap

Is a rock garden enough protection for my azaleas if I use burlap sacks to winterize instead of mulch?

I have a rock garden with evergreen azalea’s. I want to know if my rock garden will provide adequate protection for the winter if I also use burlap sacks?

Azaleas are generally well suited to zones 5 through 9, and the ‘Golden Lights’ variety is even suited to zone 4, and can withstand temperatures of -30F. Therefore, the zone you are in will largely dictate whether your plants will survive a harsh winter.

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To properly winterize your Azaleas, saturate their root structure with water when you start seeing frost and the ground starts to freeze. Do this early in the morning, and then again in the evening. This will help your Azaleas acclimate to freezing during the winter. Also, winter winds and dry air can cause the evergreen leaves of your Azaleas to dry out. Watering them won’t always prevent this, and you may need to apply an anti-transpirant in the most cold and windy months. This will help keep them from turning brown, or losing foliage.

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Hi, I had read somewhere that Burlap can’t touch the azaleas is that true?

I live in Michigan and I am trying to make sure they survive the winter

The Burlap bag as much as possible should not touch the azaleas. However it will not kill the entire plant if it does. Just don’t let the weight of the burlap crush the plant over the winter.

I am in zone 5, how do I wrap my azaleas to survive the -20+ temperatures and winds?

The are planted on the west side of the garden with an 8′ cedar hedge 3′ to the west. They are beneath a large maple and protected from the south by the wind shadow of the house 10′ south of their location. Do I cover the tops of the bushes as well as the sides? Our temperatures have been fluctuating from -15 to +12 over the past month. Am I too late to protect them and save them?

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I live in Michigan and would like to know when to uncover my azalea?

Can you respond to my email Thank you

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If you have problems with any of the steps in this article, please ask a question for more help, or post in the comments section below.

Grow in Your Zone


Probably the most basic factor in selecting the right plants for your landscape depends on the region in which you live.

The USDA divides the United States, including Puerto Rico, into 13 regions, or Plant Hardiness Zones.

These zones are defined by an area’s average low temperature and are separated by a difference of 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Zone 1 is the coldest region with an average low temperature of -60 degrees Fahrenheit and zone 13 is the warmest region with an average low temperature of +60 degrees Fahrenheit. These zones can be further divided into “a” and “b” with a difference of 5 degrees Fahrenheit.

The USDA Hardiness Zones are divided according to average low temperatures since they represent the minimum temperatures a plant variety can withstand to survive. This means that it is most hardy in temperatures that do not drop below 0 degrees Fahrenheit.

Though the USDA Hardiness Zones provide reasonable guidelines when selecting plants for your area, it’s good to remember that they are only guidelines – there are always exceptions and other factors to consider if you really want to grow a plant variety just outside your zone.

Most likely a plant that is hardy in zone 8 – 10 will not survive a zone 6 winter since there is a 20 degree average low difference, but you may find success growing a zone 8 – 10 plant in zone 7 or a zone 7 plant in zone 6.

If you’re growing a plant variety in a slightly colder region than recommended (or even if your region is experiencing colder than usual temperatures) plan to use extra winter protection by adjusting the watering schedule, spreading additional mulch, and covering the plant with breathable material. See “Encore Azalea Cold Hardiness” and “4 Essential Winter Care Tips for Encore Azaleas” for more information.

You can also grow plants in containers and bring them indoors for winter. Test it out by planting one of our Encore Azaleas varieties in a container and bringing it indoors for winter. Place the container near a light source, e.g., a window or lamp, but make sure it doesn’t get chilly! Once spring comes, take your Encore Azalea container back outside and watch it thrive. See “Seven Steps to a Successful Encore Azalea Container Garden” for more information.

To find your USDA Growing Zone, click here.

To browse the Encore Azalea Collection, click here.

Encore Azalea is the best azalea you’ll ever plant. Encore Azaleas are the world’s best-selling re-blooming azalea with rich, colorful blooms in spring, summer and fall. Encore Azaleas have 31 varieties of bloom colors and sizes to choose from and thrive equally well in high filtered shade or sunny locations – unlike any other azalea in the world. Find a retailer near you.

Evergreen Azalea Hybrids and Species

A genealogical study of the 503 varieties and species grown at Sonoma Horticultural Nursery

All evergreen azaleas we carry are classified into the Rhododendron subseries obtusum. Of the the 20 known species, all are native to Eastern Asia. These are the parents of the hybrid groups below.

  • BELGIAN INDIAN (INDICA) (BI) HYBRIDS
  • SOUTHERN INDIAN (INDICA) (SI) HYBRIDS
  • KURUME HYBRIDS
  • KAEMPFERI HYBRIDS
  • SATSUKI AZALEAS
  • INTER-GROUP HYBRIDS
  • MISCELLANEOUS INTER-GROUP HYBRIDS
  • AZALEODENDRONS (HARDIJZER HYBRIDS)
  • SPECIES
  • TOTALS

BELGIAN INDIAN (INDICA) (BI) HYBRIDS

Developed from R.simsii and possibly R.indicum in Belgium for greenhouse-forcing in the mid 1800’s. Not so cold hardy (Zones 8-9). They form medium-sized shrubs, 4′-6′ high, well-branched and spreading with medium-sized leaves. Floriferous habit. Blooming ranges from early to mid-late season.

-AMBROSIA VARIEGATED
-CABARET
-CALIFORNIA SUNSET
-DEWAELES FAVORITE
-EASTER PARADE
-ORCHIDIFLORA
-PINK DREAM
-ROSA BELTON
-RUTH MARION
-TEMPERANCE

—–RUTHERFORD HYBRIDS
The American equivalent of BI Hybrids. Developed in the 1920’s in New Jersey as greenhouse forcing azaleas. Hardy in Zones 8-9. Medium-sized shrubs, 4′-6′ high, spreading, compact, and floriferous. Colors range from reddish orange, to purple and white. Many are frilled.

-ALASKA
-DORTHY GISH
-PURITY
-ROSE QUEEN
-TICKLED PINK

-MADONNA

—–KERRIGAN HYBRIDS
Another group developed in California, resulting in forcing azaleas that are more adaptable for landscaping. Some show their BI parentage, while others are Kurume type. Upright habit, 3′-5′ tall. Hardy in Zone 8.

—–MOSSHOLDER-BRISTOW HYBRIDS aka: GOLD CUP AZALEAS
From California, these are fourth generation hybrids, derived from BI hybrids and Rutherford hybrids for greenhouse forcing, but are quite hardy to cold (Zone 8). Medium-sized shrubs, 4′-6′ tall.

-EASTER PARADE
-ROSE PARADE

SOUTHERN INDIAN (INDICA) (SI) HYBRIDS

This hybrid group was developed from a large collection of Belgian Indian hybrids in the Southeastern US around 1870. It is a mixed group, including forms and hybrids of R. indicum X R. simsii and ‘Mucronatum’ forms X R. indicum. Early bloomers are usually more upright and vigorous, while later bloomers are more compact and spreading. This group is sometimes referred to as “Sun Azaleas” because of their strong sun and heat tolerance. Hardy in Zones 8-10.

—–R.mucronatum clones

-HO ODEN
-LADY LILAC

KURUME HYBRIDS

This large group of azaleas has a long and complex history. For over 300 years, the Japanese have hybridized the Kirishima Azalea (R.X’obtusum’) and at one time, there were as many as 700 different cultivars. Once thought to be derived soley from R.kiusianum found on Mt. Kirishima in Japan, further research has shown that there are two more species involved; R.kaempferi and R.sataense; as well as one naturally occurring hybrid: R.x’obtusum’. All three are found on the surrounding mountains, where they freely hybridize with each other, producing groups which strongly resemble the Kurume Hybrid Azalea in flower and form. These groups show strongest alliance to R.sataense, not R.kaempferi and R.kiusianum as previously believed.

In 1915, at the Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, Kurume Hybrids were introduced to the Western World. Over the next decade, thousands of new types were introduced from Japan. Unfortunately, English names (not translations) were substituted for the Japanese ones, wiping out all records of the original names.

Upright, compact growth habit (many are twiggy with reddish-hued stems and smaller foliage much like R.kiusianum). Early to early midseason flowers, mostly single with some hose-in-hose, ranging in size from 1/2″ to 1 1/2″ wide. Full range of colors from pink, red, purple and white, with some striped or flecked flowers. They are quite hardy to cold (Zones 7-8) and most are sun tolerant.

We grow 80 varieties. Related groups include:

—–AICHELE HYBRIDS
Over 10,000 seedlings were grown for eight years in South Carolina. Six were later selected as the best for hardy, greenhouse-forcing azaleas. We grow the one named for the hybridizer’s four daughters: POlly, SAlly, EMmie, and ANn.

-POSAEMAN

-SNOWWHITE

—–BELTSVILLE DWARFS
True genetic dwarfs, selected from the above group. Early bloomers with a very low, compact, spreading habit and normal-sized flowers which cover the plant in bloom.

-DAINTY ROSE
-PEQUENO
-PINKETTE
-SNOWDROP
-WHITE DOLL

—–CHISOLM-MERRITT HYBRIDS
Introduced around 1947 from Maryland. R.y.var.poukhanense was used as part of the seed parent. They bloom early to midseason, and are medium to tall, compact plants. Hardy in Zones 7-9.

-CORAL SEA

-PINK PERFECTION
-SINGING FOUNTAIN
-SNOWBIRD

—–HERSHEY HYBRIDS
This group was started in Pennsylvania in the mid 1930’s to be used for greenhouse forcing, but shows hardiness in Zones 7-9.

-HERSHEY’S ORANGE
-HERSHEY’S PINK
-HERSHEY’S RED

—–SANDER HYBRIDS
Developed around 1885 in Massachusetts from some of the first evergreen azaleas to be introduced to the U.S. Many are now lost. The ‘HEXE’ cross was also done in Austria at the same time, where it was used extensively as a stock plant to graft Indidan Azaleas.
-HEXE
-VIVID

KAEMPFERI HYBRIDS

R.kaempferi, from the mountains of Japan, was first introduced by the Arnold Arboretum in 1892. It proved hardier than the Kurume Azalea on the east coast. Here, it was extensively hybridized, reaching a peak in the late 1920’s.

The original Kaempferi Hybrids are mostly medium to tall shrubs (4′ or more), with flowers 1 1/2″ to 2 1/2″. Colors range from pinks to reds and purples, with a few whites. Some of the red or orange types may fade in too much sun. Some show excellent fall and winter color. Hardy in Zones 6-9. They may loose some leaves in very cold weather.

-BETTY
-BLUE DANUBE
-DAWN
-FEDORA
-JOHANNA
-OTHELLO

-CAMPFIRE
-CAROLINE GABLE
-ELIZABETH GABLE
-HERBERT
-INDIAN SUMMER
-LORNA
-LOUISE GABLE
-MARY DALTON
-PURPLE SPLENDOR
-ROSEBUD
-ROSE GREELEY
-STEWARTSTONIAN

—–GIRARD HYBRIDS
Looking to produce compact, hardy evergreen azaleas for use in landscaping and containers, this group was started in the late 1940’s in Ohio.

-GIRARD’S FUCHSIA
-PINK DAWN

—–LINWOOD HYBRIDS
This group was started in the 1950 in New Jersey with greenhouse-forcing azaleas in mind. By 1953, breeding was focusing more on plant habit and form, as well as cold tolerance. Hardy parents included Kurume and Kaempferi Hybrids plus some Indian Hybirds.
-BESS HALLOCK
-GARDEN STATE GLOW
-GARDEN STATE SALMON
-GARDEN STATE WHITE
-HARDY GARDENIA
-OPAL
-TINY

—–SHAMMERELLO HYBRIDS
From Ohio, this group bears some similarity to the Gable Hybrids. They are extremley hardy to cold (down to -15oF in Zone 5).

-HINO WHITE
-SHAM’S FLAME
—–VUYK HYBRIDS
Developed in Holland starting in 1921, this is a hardy group with large flowers.

-VUYK’S DOUBLE BEAUTY
-VUYK’S SCARLET

SATSUKI AZALEAS

For several centuries, the Japanese have held this group of evergreen azaleas in the highest regard, developing many hundreds of different cultivars, giving this group the greatest range in flower, foliage, and form of all evergreen azaleas. Those derived primarily from R.indicum and/or R.tamurae (R.eriocarpum), with some other species in the mix, are considered Satsuki Azaleas.

In early June, festivals and exhibitions take place in parts of Japan to celebrate the Satsuki. In its use in Japanese gardens, flower display may play a secondary role, for foliage and form are also very important. They may be sheared to resemble rocks and many are used for Bonsai work. Their small leaves and their purple-red tones in winter are considered essential elements to the Satsuki group.

Satsukis were first introduced to the Western world in the early 1900’s with major introductions coming in the late 1930’s. They are late bloomers, usually late May into June. The flowers are generally single, although there are a few hose-in-hose, semi-double, and doubles. There is a great variation in petal structure as well as flower color. There can be solid tones, stripes, flecks, and sectors in different shades – all on the same plant. Japanese books may describe 12 or more color patterns. Most are slower-growing, compact, spreading plants. They are hardy in Zones 7-9. Because of their late blooming habit, it is best to give them some protection from the hot, mid-day sun.

We grow 80 varieties as well as the following clones:

—–R.indicum clones

-FLAME CREEPER
-HAKATA SHIRO
-KINSAI
-POLYPETALUM
-ROSAEFLORA (BALSAMINAEFLORA)

INTER-GROUP HYBRIDS

These are relatively new groups of evergreen azaleas, starting with the introduction of the Glenn Dale Hybrids in the late 1940’s. At least 75% of the azaleas introduced in the past 30 years are inter-group hybrids, using Satsuki, Kurume, and Kaempferi Hybrids, as well as other groups.

—–AUGUST KEHR HYBRIDS
From North Carolina, this group was started in the early 1960’s looking to produce low-growing plants with double flowers and good cold hardiness (down to 0oF).

-WHITE ROSEBUD

—–CARLA HYBRIDS aka: N.C.S.U. HYBRIDS
This breeding program began in 1965 at North Carolina State University. The goal was to produce greenhouse-forcing azaleas with mostly double flowers that opened simultaneously. This group is also disease-resistant and cold hardy.

-ADELAIDE POPE

—–GLENN DALE HYBRIDS
Starting in 1935 at the National Arboretum in Glenn Dale, Maryland, an extensive hybridizing program was undertaken with several objectives in mind: To develop plants with flowers as large and varied as the Southern Indians but with good cold hardiness, and to produce varieties that would bloom from late April to June to fill the mid-May flowering gap that was then typical of evergreen azaleas. Over 70,000 seedlings were started, with 440 clones introduced in the 1940’s.

The Glenn Dale Hybrids represents a full range in flowers, foliage, form, and bloom times. Those species used in breeding include R.indicum, R.simsii, and R.y.var.poukhanense, as well as the Satsuki, Kaempferi, Kurume, and Southern Indian Hybrids. They are hardy to -10oF in Zones 6-9.

We carry 58 varieties.

—–GREENWOOD HYBRIDS
From Canby, Oregon, this group was started in 1960 to develop compact plants for moist, temperate climates. Most have single flowers and are hardy to 0oF.
-CAN-CAN
-GREENWOOD ORANGE
-TINA

-DOROTHY CLARK
-PRIDE OF LAWRENCEVILLE
-RAIN FIRE
-RHONDA STITELER

—–LOBLOLLY BAY HYBRIDS
From Maryland, this group was selected from seedlings of Glenn Dale Azaleas. Hardy in Zones 6-9.

-GEISHA #2 (GEISHA, TOO)

—–McDONALD HYBRIDS
Developed in the late 1970’s in Virginia for greenhouse-forcing and container culture, this group is hardy in Zones 8-9.

-PURE PERFECTION

—–NORTH TISBURY HYBRIDS
From Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, beginning in the 1960’s, this group was created from seed and cuttings sent from Japan. Many show R.nakaharai heritage with their low-mounding, spreading habit and cold hardiness (Down to -5oF).

-ALEXANDER
-JOSEPH HILL
-LATE LOVE
-SUSANNAH HILL
-WINTERGREEN

—–PERICAT HYBRIDS
Developed in Pennsylvania, this group was first exhibited at the Philadelphia Flower Show in 1931. Used mostly for greenhouse-forcing, they also show good cold hardiness (Zone 7-9) with their Kurume parentage.

-SWEETHEART SUPREME
-TWENTY GRAND

—–ROBIN HILL HYBRIDS
Started in 1937 in New Jersey to produce hardy, late blooming azaleas resembling Satsukis, this group blooms late season and is hardy in Zones 6-9.

—–SONOMA HYBRIDS
This group was developed in the 1960’s and 1970’s by Mr. Stewart Barber, the original owner of SHN. Most of the information on the crosses has been lost. The Sonoma Dwarf series was developed from Satsuki seed sent from Japan and were introduced in 1974 by color.

—–WADA HYBRIDS
From Yokohamashi, Japan, this group is closely related to the Satsuki group.

-HARU GASUMI
-OTAKUMI

MISCELLANEOUS INTER-GROUP HYBRIDS

-ACHIEVEMENT
-ANNE H.
-AZTECA JOY
-CORAL DOGWOOD (sport of DOGWOOD)
-CORAL WINGS
-DOLLY PARTON
-FIRST SNOW
-HOT SHOT VARIEGATED
-LILLIAN STEWART
-NANCY MARIE
-ORANGE CHIMES
-PEARL BRADFORD SPORT (sport of PEARL BRADFORD)
-PETUNIA
-POCONO PINK
-RUBY NUGGET
-SHIRO CHAN VARIEGATED
-VARIEGATED DOGWOOD

AZALEODENDRONS (HARDIJZER HYBRIDS)

Developed in Boskoop, Holland, and first registered in 1958, this group is technically a distinct hybrid subgenus and not “true” azaleodendrons. They are evergreen with small, clustered flowers.

SPECIES

—–listed with evergreen azaleas:

—–listed as rhododendrons:

TOTALS:

4 Essential Winter Care Tips for Encore Azaleas

Follow these essential cold protection tips for your Encore® Azaleas to keep them healthy until spring:

Choose Variety Based on Hardiness & Location:

Encore Azaleas are versatile shrubs, thriving in various conditions throughout the country. They are also cold hardy, many to zone 6A. However, before selecting your Encore Azalea, know your USDA plant zone, as well as the cold hardiness of your preferred specimen. You can determine your zone and discover a list of Encore Azaleas ideal for your location through our zone finder, or you may browse your preferred variety’s characteristics individually here on our site.

Water Well:

Before freezing temperatures occur, ensure the soil around your plants has plenty of residual moisture.
If rainfall has been scarce during the fall, deeply water landscape plants every week or 10 days until the first hard freeze.
Note: in normal rainfall, your Encore Azaleas should have sufficient moisture to cope with winter.

Add Mulch:

Add mulch to protect the roots. Mulch can be applied any time, although it’s best to add about 4 inches of mulch in fall to protect the roots from first frost. Mulch keeps Encore Azalea’s shallow roots safe from the outside environment while retaining moisture as the temperatures drop. Pine straw and bark are ideal. To learn how to make your own mulch and compost, click here.

Cover or Drape:

Drape material to protect plants from severe weather. When heavy snowfall or icing is predicted, provide additional protection by driving stakes into the ground around the plants and draping material over the stakes. Choose burlap or any cloth material so the azalea receives air flow. Be sure the cover does not have direct contact with the plants as this can injure the foliage. Cover is especially beneficial for new or recently-transplanted azaleas, which have not had enough time to establish a strong root system.

For more winter care tips, watch our Encore Azalea Winter Care video. Here’s a handy printable Winter Care Guide.

To browse the full Encore Azalea collection, click here.

Encore Azalea is the best azalea you’ll ever plant. Encore Azaleas are the world’s best-selling re-blooming azalea with rich, colorful blooms in spring, summer and fall. Encore Azaleas have 31 varieties of bloom colors and sizes to choose from and thrive equally well in high filtered shade or sunny locations – unlike any other azalea in the world. Find a retailer near you at www.encoreazalea.com.

Plant Encore Azaleas for Two Times the Show.

How Encore™ azaleas are different

The azalea is one of the most beautiful blooming shrubs in the garden. They welcome spring covered in so many blooms they look like giant balls of color. Southern gardeners have cherished them for years and gardeners in more northern climates look on with envy each spring. Most azaleas put on their spring show and once it is over, become normal shrubs with lovely green leaves. There are a few species that tend to bloom in the fall and that’s where breeder Robert C. ‘Buddy’ Lee has concentrated his efforts for the last few decades. He bred these fall bloomers to the plants with earlier flowering cycles and the result is a plant that repeats it’s show, so he dubbed these new azaleas Encore™. Another plus resulting from this experiment is that many of the Encore™ azaleas are hardier in areas a bit further north than their normal, spring-blooming counterparts. Some even do well as far north as USDA Zone 6a, however be sure and check the requirements of the ones you like to make sure that they will survive your winters as some are only hardy through Zone 7a. There are even reports that gardeners in Zone 5 have successfully grown Encores™, however they plant them in locations sheltered from harsh winter winds and often cover them during periods of extreme cold. There are over 30 cultivars now with a wide range of colors, sizes and hardiness, so there’s sure to be one that fits your garden.

Planting Encore™ azaleas

Encore™ azaleas like conditions ranging from sun to partial shade, however, they do best in the southern parts of their range (up to 10b) if they are sheltered from the heat of afternoon sun. As long as they receive about 6 hours of sun each day, they will bloom and thrive. Just like their spring-blooming cousins, Encore™ azaleas enjoy well-drained, acid soil and plenty of moisture. Azaleas benefit from a good layer of mulch and traditionally pine straw is used because of its acid content. Space Encore azaleas about as far apart as their full size lists on the tag. If the tag indicates they grow to three feet tall, then measure three feet from the center of one shrub to the center of the next and your plants should fill in to make a lovely continuous border. When planting Encores™, dig a generous hole and backfill with some organic compost. Plant the shrub so that the rootball is even with, or slightly above the soil line. Azaleas do not like to be planted very deep. If you have heavy clay soil, amend it with compost, pine bark and a bit of sand to help aerate it and promote drainage. Be sure to water deeply every few days their first year to promote a deep and healthy root system and in the following years water as weather conditions indicate. Fertilize each spring with a good quality azalea food and that should be all the plants need. Fertilizing in the autumn promotes tender growth that may not make it through the winter. Pruning is not really necessary except to shape the plants if there are straggling branches. Do so in the early summer just after they have finished blooming so that you do not remove the fall flower buds that form shortly after. I’ve had my Encores™ about 4 years now and I’ve only clipped a branch here and there that is in the way.

Lots of choices with Encore™ azaleas

With so many cultivars available now, there’s an Encore™ azalea that should fit most any garden. Colors range from nearly pure white to flaming red with corals, pinks and purples in between. I have the lovely Autumn Twist™. As the name suggests, there are two types of flowers on the same plant. Some of the blooms are a pretty bicolor, blooming pink with purple stripes and some of the blooms are a solid deep pink. The header image is my Autumn Twist™. It is one of the hardier Encores™ that does well in the northern end of its range and can eventually reach about 4.5 feet tall and wide, however mine seem to be holding at the three foot height as of now.

Encore™ azaleas are widely available

Encore™ azaleas are now widely available at many hometown nurseries and big box stores, so chances are they have stocked the cultivars that will grow best in your area. The price is attractive as well. I paid about $30 for well branched healthy plants bearing the tag of a well-known plant supplier at my local nursery and mine came with a 1 year guarantee from my nursery. The plants were bushy and when I tipped them out of the containers the roots were healthy and not pot-bound. I planted them according to directions and they never missed a beat. They brighten up my east-facing front walkway and I get comments all the time from visitors in the fall. Encores™ are an excellent landscape choice if you have the climate and conditions where they can thrive.

Azalea Plant Chart

Buy in bloom. Most people have a particular color in mind when they buy azaleas. One way to guarantee the color you want is to buy flowering plants. You will be sure to get the right color, and if you are buying several you can see if they match or blend.

Speaking of color. To get the most impact, set out blocks or sweeps of the same selection. Ten types scattered across the front of your house will be colorful but chaotic.

Consider size. Not all azaleas are low-growing shrubs. The Southern Indian hybrids reach 8 to 10 feet tall in some parts of the South and should be planted at least 4 feet apart. Some zealous gardeners don’t realize this and soon find their sidewalks and houses consumed.

The medium-size Kurumes grow 3 to 5 feet tall and need a 30-inch spacing. Satsuki hybrids–including Gumpo, Macrantha, and Wakaebisu–generally grow less than 3 feet tall and are perfect for planting under low windows. Satsukis can be placed 2 feet apart for a nice full look. Don’t crowd new plants together; space them for the future, not for instant effect.

A little shade, please. When choosing the best spot to plant, take the sun into account. Azaleas like plenty of morning light. However, avoid areas that get midday or hot afternoon sun–plants in full sun are susceptible to lacebugs and spider mites.

Azaleas need acid soil. Adding plenty of leaf mold, peat moss, or bark can help create the ideal environment. This is particularly important if you’re placing the plants near your home’s foundation, where lime can leach out of the concrete and neutralize acid soils. Limestone gravel used for drainage around your home can also cause soil to be too alkaline.

In alkaline soils (like those in Texas and Arkansas), you may want to try growing a few specimens in containers.

Moisture. Avoid planting azaleas near downspouts or areas that stay damp. In heavy clay soil, plant them almost on top of the ground, building soil up on the sides of the root ball.

Planting in clay. Dig a hole as deep as the root ball and twice as wide. Add soil enriched with organic matter to the hole so that the top of the root ball will sit 4 inches above ground level. Place the root ball in the hole, and build up the soil on the sides. Planting high gives the shrub the drainage it needs, but you will need to water frequently.

About pruning. Avoid the urge to shear your plants into round balls or other geometric forms. Azaleas look best when allowed to grow to their natural mounded shape. Limit pruning to removing long, stray branches. Older plants that have become leggy may benefit from pruning branches from the main trunk in staggered lengths. If you have to prune hard every year, you probably have the wrong azalea for that location, or your plants are too close together.

Azalea concerns. Don’t worry when a few leaves turn yellow and drop off, especially in the fall. All evergreens drop some leaves during the year. If autumn is mild, azaleas will often bloom. There is nothing you can do to prevent this. Enjoy the fall blooms, because flowering could be sparse the following spring.

“Azalea Plant Chart” is from the Southern Living Spring Garden Guide, 2000.

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