When to plant azaleas?

How to care for Azaleas

Azalea encapsulates the beauty of spring.

When fully bloomed, its pink, red, violet and orange hues inject freshness and joy into our homes or gardens.

Did you know that the beauty of this easy-to-grow plant is celebrated in countries like?;
• Japan
• Korea
• Hong Kong
• and the USA, where festivals are held annually.

Taking care of an azalea is not too hard, making this plant a top choice for vanquishing drab and boring nooks and empty spaces in our homes.

Here’s how to care for your azalea plant:

Planting and soil requirements

• Azaleas thrive in moist and acidic soils with pH between five and six.
• Good drainage is essential for keeping the soil moist rather than soggy which can trigger rotting in the roots of the plant.

1-When planting;

-Dig a hole slightly deeper than the depth of roots and leave about a foot on each side. Ideally, at the bottom, lay a specially formulated low-pH substratum.

2-After planting;

-Placing a two-inch layer of organic mulch around the plant will help it retain the necessary moisture. Mulch will also add enough nutrients to reduce the need for fertilizing to about once a year.

HOW MUCH LIGHT DO AZALEAS NEED?
These flowers love locations that are both shady and bright. Exposure to the strong sun at noon should be avoided. Rather azaleas thrive when exposed to the weak morning sun and then remain in the shade for the rest of the day. This makes the eastern or north-eastern areas of your property – if planted outside – ideal for these flowers. If planted inside, place your azalea where it can get light either in the morning or late in the afternoon.

Watering and feeding your azaleas

Keep in mind! : Azaleas have shallow and tender roots, making them vulnerable to water and drought stress, so over-watering and under-watering should be avoided at all costs. Instead, the moisture of the soil should be your pointer whether a watering is due. Keep it moist.

!TIPS FOR WATERING THESE PLANTS! :

• Allow the water to penetrate deeply and leave until the soil dries, then repeat.
• Those plants that are exposed to the sun for longer will need more water, but be careful not to make the soil soggy as it can trigger rotting.
• Mass cultivation with azaleas is possible and could benefit from a well-thought-out surface irrigation system.
• While sprinkling most plants with water leaves them vulnerable to fungus attacks, the azalea flower absorbs water from its leaves to compensate for its weak roots. This is why spraying its leaves with a sprinkler, preferably before sun exposure each day, should be a regular practice.

Fertilizers

Fertilizer should be applied once a year, but don’t overdo it as the roots are frail. The azalea’s leaves will turn yellow when the soil has been sucked out of its nitrogen and other nutrients, and this is your green light for a fertilizer treatment. Otherwise, only fertilize during late spring or early autumn, after the blooming has finished.

Azaleas should be pruned to keep them in a beautiful, symmetric form. Don’t be too afraid to cut off big branches or twigs as the plant will recover if all other steps have been done correctly.

The best time to prune: Pruning ideally should be done after the blooming period has finished to avoid harming the flowers or any new buds. Trimming the canopy will encourage it to become denser, which will be a huge pay-off when it blooms in late spring.

If cared for properly, azalea flowers can live up to 40 years and more.

Following this set of instructions will help you enjoy the astonishing beauty of these spirited plants for a long time to come.

Azalea

Azalea, certain species of Rhododendron, of the family Ericaceae, formerly given the generic name Azalea. Neither the nature of the corolla (ring of petals) nor other characteristics are sufficiently constant to serve as a means of separating these plants into two distinct genera, although azaleas are typically deciduous while rhododendrons are evergreen. Azalea flowers are funnel-shaped, somewhat two-lipped, and often fragrant. Flowers of rhododendrons, on the other hand, are more often bell-shaped. Azalea flowers typically have only 5 projecting stamens, as compared with 10 (or more) in rhododendrons. Intermediate forms, however, do occur.

AzaleaGretchen Garner/Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Cultivated varieties have been bred from species that are native to the hilly regions of Asia and North America. Well-known North American kinds include the smooth, or sweet, azalea (R. arborescens), a fragrant white-flowering shrub 3 to 6 metres (about 10 to 20 feet) high; the flame azalea (R. calendulaceum), a shrub 0.5 to 2 metres (1.5 to 6.5 feet) high; and the pinxter flower (R. periclymenoides), a shrub 1 to 2 metres (3 to 6.5 feet) high, with pink to whitish flowers. Hundreds of horticultural forms have been bred from the Ghent azalea (R. gandavense); the molle azalea (R. molle); the Yodogawa azalea (R. yedoense); and the torch azalea (R. kaempferi).

If you live in the South, the spring azalea extravaganza is so bright, it’s almost gaudy. Azaleas are one of my favorite plants – they make fantastic foundation shrubs, the blooms are to die for, and if you plant them carefully, they’ll give you decades of low-maintenance enjoyment.

Here’s what you need to know to grow azaleas in your garden.

About Azaleas

Azaleas (Rhododendron sp.) are one of the hallmarks of Southern gardens, with thousands of cultivated hybrids and varieties available. In general, azaleas are divided into two groups:

  • Evergreen Azaleas: Native to Asia and wow us with the familiar blooms in shades of white, pink, red, and purple.
  • Deciduous Azaleas: Native to North America. While they lose their leaves in the fall, they make up for it with delicate spring blossoms in unusual shades of white, pink, red, and even orange and yellow.

When choosing azaleas for your garden, keep these factors in mind:

  • Size: Varieties of azaleas range in size from 12 inches to 12 feet. Choose plants that will fit the space, rather than trying to prune into shape.
  • Shape: Evergreen azaleas range from round and compact to sprawling and irregular while deciduous azaleas grow more upright. Make sure you understand the growing habits of your variety.
  • Blooming: Azaleas generally bloom in April and May, with the blooms lasting about two weeks. Some varieties even bloom again in the fall. For a longer season of color, choose varieties with different bloom times.
  • Climate: Some varieties of azaleas are more cold-tolerant than others. Florist’s azaleas (the ones you might receive as a gift) often don’t tolerate freezing temperatures at all. Make sure the variety is hardy to your climate planting zone. One way to ensure this is to buy azaleas from local growers.

Azalea Growing Conditions

  • Planting Zone: Most azaleas are hardy to planting zones 6-9, with a few varieties tolerating colder temperatures up to zone 4. Azaleas do best in spots sheltered from harsh winds.
  • Partial Shade: Plant azaleas in dappled sunlight, or in a spot with morning sun and afternoon shade. Azaleas naturally thrive at the edge of light pine woods.
  • Acidic Soil: Azaleas prefer soil with a pH of 5 to 6.5.
  • Good Drainage: Azaleas hate to be soggy, so proper planting is important. Loose soil that is rich in organic matter will provide the best drainage (and also eliminate the need for fertilizer).

How to Plant Azaleas

Fall is a great time to plant azaleas, although you can generally plant them any time during the growing season. When planting azaleas, follow these tips:

  • Choose the Right Spot: Plant in an area with loose, rich soil. If you are creating a new planting bed for your azaleas, till and improve the soil at least 18” deep.
  • Drainage is Key: Poor drainage is a surefire way to kill an azalea, since they have pretty shallow roots that shouldn’t be smothered. In heavy clay soil, plant azaleas with the root ball an inch or two above the soil level. If you are amending the soil in your planting bed, add in plenty of coarse organic matter to keep the soil loose.
  • Mulch Around Plants: Mulch holds in moisture and helps with cold tolerance, but a couple of inches is plenty – again, you don’t want to smother the roots. Leave a few inches of space around the stem.

For more detailed planting information, check out our article on How To Plant Container-Grown Shrubs.

How to Take Care of Azaleas

If properly planted, azaleas are low-maintenance plants. Follow these tips:

  • Pruning: Azaleas need little pruning, but you can shape up your azaleas right after they bloom. Remove a few of the spindliest branches, and pinch back the tips of the other branches to encourage fullness. This light annual TLC should keep your azaleas in good shape. By midsummer, the plants have already set next year’s flower buds, so avoid late-season pruning.
  • Watering: Your azaleas might need some supplemental irrigation during droughts. Water deeply, rather than frequently, and keep them mulched to hold in moisture. To ward off cold damage, water azaleas thoroughly before the first hard freeze.
  • Feeding: In good soil, with a nice organic mulch, azaleas don’t really need supplemental fertilizer. If you do feed your azaleas, choose a fertilizer specifically for acid-loving plants (it will usually be labeled for azaleas and rhododendrons), and apply fertilizer right after they finish blooming.
  • Problems: Most azalea problems, including lack of blooming, come from poor soil, cold damage, improper watering, or improper pruning. Diseases and pests are less common, and most problems can be discovered and treated in time for the plant to recover.

Further Information

  • How to Plant Azalea Shrubs in Your Yard (video)
  • Growing Azaleas and Rhododendrons (University of Missouri)
  • Azalea Society of America

Top Tips for Designing with Azaleas in the Home Garden

Posted in Gardening Tips on April 27 2011, by Sonia Uyterhoeven

Sonia Uyterhoeven is Gardener for Public Education.

Azaleas, as seen in the Garden‘s spectacular new Azalea Garden, provide home gardeners with wonderful spring color that extends from April into July (depending on the species). Evergreen azaleas provide year-round interest while deciduous azaleas often offer multi-seasonal appeal and lovely fall foliage. Azaleas are slow growing; many of them, save some of the larger deciduous natives, make good candidates for foundation plantings. By following a few simple rules, it is easy to design effectively with azaleas.

Azaleas can be planted as specimens or in groups. The royal azalea (Rhododendron schlippenbachii) not only has luminescent pinkish-white flowers in late April/early May but also exquisite rounded foliage that is arranged like pinwheels on the stems, making it an ideal specimen plant.

The native flame azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum) flowers in late May to early June in a variety of shades from fiery red-orange to yellow-orange (as the name would suggest). Specimens can reach up to 12 feet tall and 5 feet wide and rival any large Viburnum in the garden. When planted en masse, flame azaleas create a nuanced color harmony that will brighten any landscape; they do not look congested or dense due to their graceful structure. Though deciduous, they can provide seasonal screening in your yard.

Pay attention to bloom time when planting azaleas in groups. Azaleas can generally be categorized by three bloom times: early, mid, or late season. I have visited gardens where azaleas are effectively planted so that they flower sequentially; as one azalea fades its neighbor opens, providing color for extended periods. Or, weave a tapestry by planting groups of azaleas that flower at the same time.

When working with color in your garden, do not mix too many bright colors together. Azaleas come in a broad spectrum of color: white, salmon, mauve, pink, purple, and all variations of red, orange, and yellow. Blend bright colors with paler shades or white, so as not to overwhelm. Every design needs moments where the colors blend and the intensity subsides to give the eye a chance to rest and absorb the scene.

Pay attention to the size and the growth habit of your azaleas when combining in groups. Azaleas come in all shapes and sizes. Some have an upright habit while others have a more sprawling or creeping habit. Small azaleas are wonderful additions to a rock garden or a well-defined edge of a border or foundation.

Pair deciduous azaleas with other deciduous azaleas, and match evergreens with each other. Combining deciduous azaleas with evergreen azaleas in an overall planting is fine, but when placed side by side they generally look best with their own kind.

Place azaleas strategically in your yard where they can brighten up shadier areas. Years ago I worked at the New England Wild Flower Society’s garden, Garden in the Woods. The garden was ablaze in the spring with early ephemerals, native dogwoods (Cornus florida), redbuds (Cercis canadensis), and an array of flowering azaleas. Specimen azaleas were staggered through the landscape. A winding path wove through the garden enticing visitors to follow the color bursts and move through the landscape. Staggering the azaleas as focal points (rather than planting in large groups) gave the impression that the landscape flowed on endlessly; the eye traveled from one colorful spot to another, making the space look more expansive.

Placing an azalea in a shady corner can brighten up or draw attention to an otherwise overlooked spot. Curves in garden beds can be accentuated in the spring with the bright burst of color. Evergreen azaleas add year-round structure to the garden, providing a solid framework when not in flower. Deciduous azaleas generally have a graceful habit and add a structural component throughout the season. They are also an important part in the fall garden design, highlighting areas late in the season and combining effortlessly with other plants that have fall color.

Interplant azaleas with a selection of native and non-native shrubs and perennials. Partner azaleas in the garden with woodland perennials such as ferns, wild ginger (Asarum), Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum), hosta (Hosta), toad lily (Tricyrtis), and many others.

Combine azaleas with other flowering shrubs. Extend the flowering season and experiment with texture and foliage by combining azaleas with other attractive shrubs. The oak-leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) makes a natural choice, thriving in part shade and providing interest with its broad, oak-leaf foliage and late season flowers. Large fothergilla (Fothergilla major) blends well with large native azaleas, while the dwarf fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii) complements smaller cultivated varieties.

Underplant azaleas with spring bulbs. Make the most out of seasonal moments in your garden. Pair spring-blooming azaleas with daffodils (Narcissus) that flower at the same time; yellow daffodils will enliven the scene, while white varieties with peach-colored corollas harmonize with many color schemes.

Azalea Planting

Azaleas are among the most popular flowering shrubs grown in South Carolina. Good site selection and proper planting methods will make a difference in promoting healthy, vigorous plants.

Botanically, all azaleas are classified in the genus Rhododendron. The cultural requirements for azaleas and rhododendrons are basically the same, but their structural differences include the following characteristics:

  • True rhododendrons have 10 or more stamens, and the underside of the leaves may be scaly or have small dots.
  • Azaleas have five stamens; leaves do not have scales and often are covered with hairs.
  • True rhododendrons are usually evergreen (there are exceptions).
  • Most azaleas are deciduous, although most types used in the home landscape are evergreen.
  • True rhododendron flowers tend to be bell-shaped.
  • Most azalea flowers are funnel-form.

Types of Azaleas

There are numerous azalea varieties available in South Carolina. When choosing which azaleas to add to your landscape, it is important to consider whether a variety is adapted to the area in which it will be planted. Poorly adapted varieties often give poor results year after year.

There are both evergreen and deciduous types of azaleas. Although the evergreen type is more popular for use around the home, deciduous azaleas are excellent plants for woodland settings.

Evergreen: Evergreen azalea hybrids that grow well in South Carolina include Southern Indica, Kurume, Kaempferi, Satsuki, Gable, Glen Dale and the Encore™ series.

There are many varieties within each of the following groups, and bloom times will vary within each group, depending on the variety. Bloom times also are dependent upon weather, planting zone and the microclimate of the area in the landscape.

Southern Indica azaleas, or Southern Indian azaleas, are popular cultivars that have both large flowers and leaves. The blooming period begins in late March and extends to early April. They are vigorous, upright growers, often reaching heights of 7 to 10 feet or more. Popular varieties include ‘Formosa’ (magenta), ‘Mrs. G. G. Gerbing’ (pure white), ‘George L. Tabor’ (orchid pink), ‘Judge Solomon’ (light pink) and ‘Pride of Mobile’ (rose pink).

Kurume azaleas are cold-hardy and adapted to all of South Carolina. They are compact plants that develop as much spread as height. Normal bloom occurs from late March to mid-April. Popular varieties include ‘Coral Bells’ (salmon pink), ‘Hinodegiri’ (vivid red), ‘Pink Pearl’ (clear pink) and ‘Snow’ (white). ‘Coral Bells’ is a very early blooming Kurume, and at bloom the plants are completely covered in small flowers.

Kaempferi azaleas have a taller, more upright growth habit than Kurume. They are highly cold-resistant, and flower in late April and early May. Kaempferi are generally not recommended for the coastal areas. Available varieties include ‘Anna Marie’ (white), ‘Cleopatra’ (light pink) and ‘Fedora’ (salmon pink).

Satsuki azaleas are hardy in all of South Carolina. Plants are low-growing with large, showy blooms from May to June. Some of the more popular varieties include ‘Bunkwa’ (pink), ‘Gumpo Pink’ (pink), ‘Gumpo White’ (white), ‘Higasa’ (deep rose-pink) and ‘Shinnyo-no-Tsuki’ (rose border with white center).

Gable hybrids are very cold-hardy and are generally not recommended for coastal areas. They grow to be about 2 to 4 feet tall and wide, and flowers bloom from April to May. Some of the popular varieties include ‘Rosebud’ (rose pink), ‘Rose Greely’ (white) and ‘Purple Splendor’ (purple).

Glen Dale hybrids grow to be about 4 to 6 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide. The bloom period varies, depending on the variety; some flower as early as March, while others do not flower until June. These azaleas are very cold-hardy and are generally not recommended for coastal areas. Popular varieties include ‘Morning Star’ (deep rose, early bloom), ‘Fashion ‘ (rose with dark blotch, mid-season bloom), ‘Glacier’ (white with pale green, mid-season bloom) and ‘ Aztec’ (peach red, late-bloom).

Encore™ series azaleas bloom twice a year, in the spring and again in late summer or fall.

Varieties vary widely in color, shape, size and exact bloom time, but all share the re-blooming habit. Common varieties include ‘Autumn Royalty’, ‘Autumn Rouge’, ‘Autumn Amethyst’ and ‘Autumn Cheer’. There are currently 29 varieties with colors including white, pink, red, coral, lavender and fuchsia.

Deciduous: Many deciduous azalea species are native to South Carolina and include sweet azalea, flame azalea, Piedmont azalea, Pinxterbloom azalea, plumleaf azalea, swamp azalea, Florida flame azalea, Oconee azalea, Alabama azalea, pinkshell azalea, coastal azalea, various selections of each species, and cultivars that are hybrid crosses of the different native species. Additionally, the ‘Knap Hill’ and ‘Exbury’ hybrids that were primarily bred in England and the Confederate series hybrids that were bred in Alabama are excellent deciduous azaleas for South Carolina. All of these hybrids have one or more native deciduous azaleas as parents.

Sweet azalea (R. arborescens) is a large, erect shrub that grows from 8 to 15 feet in height and width. Fragrant flowers are white to light pink and may bloom from May through July. Leaves may turn red in fall. Sweet azalea is generally not recommended for the Coastal Plain.

Flame azalea (R. calendulaceum) is loosely branched and upright, often growing more than 10 to 15 feet tall and wide. The non-fragrant flowers range in color from yellow to red and bloom from May to June. Fall leaf color is yellow to red. Flame azalea is not recommended for the Coastal Plain. ‘Tangerine Delight’ is a R. calendulaceum cross with glowing bright orange flowers and blooms in late April.

Piedmont azalea (R. canescens) is a large suckering shrub that grows 10 to 15 feet tall. Fragrant flowers range from white to pink to rose, blooming from late March to late April. The tube of the flower is often pink. A number of selections exist, with ‘Camilla’s Blush’ (a Maid in the Shade™ selection) the most popular. It has soft pink blossoms and a delightful fragrance.

Pinxterbloom azalea (R. periclymenoides) is a low-growing, suckering shrub that may grow to 10 feet tall, although the average height is 4 to 6 feet. Fragrant flowers vary in color from white to pale pink to deep violet, opening from April to May. Foliage is dull yellow in fall. An early blooming selection with pink flowers and rose pink buds is ‘Rosy Pink Nudiflorum’ which grows to 6 – 8 feet tall. The name Rhododendron periclymenoides is synonymous with R. nudiflorum.

Plumleaf azalea (R. prunifolium) grows 8 to 10 feet tall. Flowers are orange-red to red and bloom later than most azaleas in July and August.

Swamp azalea (R. viscosum) grows from 3 to 15 feet tall. Flowers are white, sometimes pink, and are clove-scented. Bloom begins mid-May to June. Swamp azalea grows in damp or wet soil. ‘Summer Eyelet’ is a swamp azalea selection with spice-scented white blooms in July and grows to 6 feet tall.

Florida flame azalea or Florida azalea (R. austrinum) is an excellent landscape plant with heat tolerance. This species was used in the breeding of the Confederate series to provide both vigor and the ability to grow well in the heat on the coast. The flowers are gold with shades of orange and are fragrant. The tube of the flower is often flushed with orange-red color. There are number of selections of Florida flame azalea, such as ‘Lisa’s Gold’ with bright gold flowers in early April (10 to 12 feet tall), ‘Firecracker’ with striking orange blooms with a touch of red (8 feet tall), and ‘Rushin’s Austrinum’ which has bright yellow flowers in mid-April (8 to 10 feet tall). All of the selections have wonderful fragrances. ‘Kelsey’s Glow’ is a R. austrinum cross which has bright yellow blooms with reddish hues in mid-April and grows from 10 to 12 feet tall.

Oconee azalea (R. flammeum) is a very heat tolerant native with flowers that may range from yellowish- orange to orange to deep red. The flowers appear in early April, but are not fragrant. ‘Lucky Lady’ is a R. flammeum cross with vibrant red flowers in mid-April and grows to 6 to 8 feet tall.

Alabama azalea (R. alabamense) has snowy white flowers with a prominent yellow blotch. The plants are low growing and spread by stolons or underground stems. They bloom in mid-April to May, and the flowers have a lemon-spice fragrance.

Coastal azalea (R. atlanticum) is native along the Eastern seaboard coast and is a low-growing, stoloniferous plant (that is, it spreads by underground stems). It spreads quickly in sandy soils, but spread is restricted in heavier clay soils. The white flowers are blushed with pink and have a yellow blotch.

Pinkshell azalea (R. vaseyi) is a rare native with delicate pink to white flowers and is one of the first to bloom in the spring. This species typically grows at higher elevations.

Many hybrids exist among the various native deciduous azaleas. Some may be natural crosses, but many are bred. One impressive hybrid is ‘Kennell’s Gold’ ((R. atlanticum x R. nudiflorum) x R. austrinum), which has golden yellow flowers with pale orange floral tubes. This hybrid will grow from 12 to 15 feet tall and flowers in early April.

Other crosses of native azaleas found in the landscape trade for sale are:

  • ‘My Mary’, is a cross of (R. atlanticum x R. periclymenoides) x R. austrinum and has large yellow fragrant flowers. It blooms in April and grows to 8 feet tall.
  • ‘Nacoochee Princess’, which is a R. atlanticum x R. periclymenoides hybrid, has large, white fragrant flowers with a slight tint of pink. This hybrid will grow from 8 to 10 feet tall.
  • ‘Sautee Sunset’ is a R. flammeum x R. alabamense hybrid with peachy-pink flowers with a soft yellow throat. It will grow from 6 to 8 feet tall.
  • ‘Darlin’s Dream’ is a R. canescens x R. alabamense cross and has white flowers with lavender-pink edging and a golden yellow throat. It blooms in mid-April and grows from 10 to 12 feet tall.

Knap Hill and Exbury hybrids are the result of crosses involving several species. They grow 8 to 12 feet tall with a spread almost as wide. Boldly colored flowers bloom from April to May. Flower colors range from white to cream, yellow, pink, orange or red; many colors are very bold. Knap Hill and Exbury hybrids are not recommended for the Coastal Plain. One of the most heat-tolerant and popular of the Knap Hill hybrids is ‘Gibralter’, which grows 6 to 8 feet tall and blooms in mid-April with fragrant, vivid flame-orange flowers with ruffled petals.

The Confederate series of azaleas include 11 cultivars that were bred in Alabama, with ‘Admiral Semmes’, ‘Stonewall Jackson’ and ‘Frederick O. Douglass’ being some of the most popular. The cultivars of the Confederate series have the Florida flame azalea (R. austrinum) as one of their parents, with the result that these azaleas have greater vigor and more heat tolerance than the Knap Hill and Exbury hybrids. The Confederate series of azaleas may even be grown on the coast because of this greater heat tolerance.

  • ‘Admiral Semmes’ is the most heat tolerant, is fast growing to 4 feet tall, and has very fragrant, large yellow blooms.
  • ‘Frederick O. Douglass’ has fragrant, white and soft pink petals with a yellow throat.
  • ‘Stonewall Jackson’ has fragrant, medium- orange blooms.

Buying Plants

Azaleas are usually sold as container-grown plants. They are occasionally available as balled-and-burlapped (B&B). Buy plants that are well-branched and sturdy. Those that have weak, spindly growth usually have a poor root system.

Planting Sites

Site selection is very important. Azaleas prefer light to moderate shade. In spring, flowers last longer on plants in filtered sun than those in full sun. This is especially true of late-flowering plants. Azaleas located in full sun are more susceptible to lace bugs than those grown in partial shade. Heavy shade, however, causes weak growth and a reduction in flower production. In winter, azaleas in partial shade usually suffer less cold injury to both the plants and flowers.

Azaleas planted under pine trees generally do well, as the moderate filtered shade and acidic soil are ideal conditions for vigorous growth. Those planted under shallow-rooted trees (maple, ash, some oaks) have difficulty competing with these other trees for moisture and nutrients. If the landscape does not have an area with filtered shade, then choose a planting site that will receive morning sun and afternoon shade.

Planting Time

Container-grown azaleas can be planted any time of year, provided they are watered properly. Most are bought and planted in spring when in flower. Planting in spring, however, requires special attention to watering to ensure survival through the heat of summer. Buying and planting in fall allows the plant to become better established before next year’s hot weather arrives. The disadvantage to fall planting is that you cannot actually see the plant in bloom.

Top 5 Companion Plants for Encore® Azaleas

By Norman Winter, ‘The Garden Guy’

Encore® Azalea planting season is here, and garden centers are stocked to the hilt. We’d like to help you select companion plants that make the home landscape a true garden.

Choosing companion plants can sometimes cause a little fear and trepidation. Relax – with Encore Azaleas, it’s really hard to get it wrong.

Hollies

If your landscape is a blank canvas, then consider choosing dark green evergreens. Not only can they serve as the bones or structure of your garden, but also as a backdrop for your favorite colors of Encore® Azaleas.
Hollies are the workhorses of the landscape, and the Southern Living® Plant Collection features seven different varieties. Ranging from dwarf to tall, like Christmas Jewel® Holly, variegated, such as Golden Oakland™, or offering prolific berries, like Robin™ Holly, you are certain to find one that suits your needs.

Cleyera

Cleyera is another great evergreen shrub or small tree that would partner well in a garden with hollies, while serving as a companion to Encore Azaleas. Many gardeners are stunned when they first see a mature Bronze Beauty™ or LeAnn™ Cleyera. Glossy deep green and bronze-colored foliage on a 10- to 12-foot shrub will take your breath away, while your Encore Azaleas dazzle below. You’ll also find beautiful new variegation in the other Southern Living® Plant Collection cleyera varieties Romeo™ and Juliet™.

Abelias

Variegated foliage artfully creates different textures in your garden. Imagine an informal drift of seven or nine red Autumn Bonfire™ azaleas, or maybe the award-winning purple Autumn Royalty™. While their blooms are exhibiting unimaginable beauty, the look would be even more riveting if grown next to a sweep of one of the incredible variegated abelias like Miss Lemon™, ‘Kaleidoscope’ or Confetti®.
Each of these Southern Living® Plant Collection abelia varieties offers colorful variegated foliage that lasts all year. Glowing with white to light pink blooms in spring, these shrubs are a winning addition no matter your favorite Encore® color.

Carex or Sedge

Texture or color will be unsurpassed if you partner your Encore® Azaleas with one of the carex from the EverColor® series. The fine-leafed texture and bright chartreuse of ‘Everillo’ or gold from ‘Everoro’ will give absolute magic to all Encore® Azalea plantings, whether used in the foreground or alongside as a cluster. Seven choices of color and variegation will amaze when grown with your Encore® Azalea.

The most obvious choice for Encore® companion plants would be other azaleas, or more specifically, other Encore® Azalea varieties in differing bloom colors or heights. Planting taller, intermediate Encores® in the rear of the border and compact selections to the front allows you to create a sensational layered panorama.
If you want to add a unique specimen, you could plant a few native azaleas. Sometimes called Florida Flame azaleas, native azaleas only bloom in spring, but their blazing orange and yellow blooms are stunning. Southern Living® Plant Collection offers two selections that will tell you all you need to know just by their names – Solar Flare™ and Solar Glow™ Sunbow® Azaleas. Bearing large flowers with flaming colors, they’re guaranteed to electrify your spring landscape. Purple and white Encores, or a combination of both – plus the Sunbow® Azalea selections – are sure to bring out the cameras.

The key to matchmaking Encore® Azalea varieties with companion plants is to select plants that have similar exposure, soil and water needs. Soon, you’ll find you’ve created a beautiful garden full of friends!

Plants Similar to Azaleas

rhododendron image by Anja Langner from Fotolia.com

Colorful, evergreen shrubs and bushes that are popular in the south, azaleas (Rhododendron) offer early color in many sizes and shapes. These easy-to-care-for plants thrive in partial shade with moderate water, making them similar to their more cold-hardy cousins in the Ericaceae family, including rhododendron, mountain laurel and blueberries. Most plants in this family prefer acidic soil and are evergreen.

Rhododendron

This giant group of plants has about 800 species and more than 10,000 named varieties, according to the “1997 Sunset National Garden Book.” Rhododendron, which are hardy and often grown in Northern states, bloom in mid-spring through the summer. Varieties are available in a rainbow of colors, including white, magenta, red and lilac blue. Rhododendron require more air in the root zone and soil should be fast-draining but retain moisture. Rhododendrons thrive in shade. Ironclad hybrids, including ‘President Lincoln,’ can survive to -25 degrees F while ‘Cheer’ and ‘Holden’ are among the varieties that will tolerate hot summers.

Mountain Laurel

Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) is a more elegant version of the azalea or rhododendron that has cup-shaped blooms with five star-like points around the rim. An evergreen shrub that thrives in full sun or partial shade, mountain laurel is native to the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S. Also known as calico bush, mountain laurel is a slow grower that can reach 8 feet with glossy, oval leaves. Mountain laurel blooms in late spring and has small pink blooms in clusters that are about 5 inches across. The ‘Bay State’ variety has coral-colored blooms, while ‘Pinwheel’ has bi-color blooms in red and white.

Huckleberry

Evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum) is native to the Pacific coast and grows best in the shade. If planted in the shade, these shrubs can reach 10 feet, but will stop at about 3 feet in sunny areas. Huckleberry has leathery, dark green leaves and white or pink flowers that bloom in spring. The fruit, which is a black berry, is popular in baking and canning. Huckleberry plants are erect, making them good hedge plants, but they may also be grown in pots.

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