Picking The Right Azalea For Your Garden

Massing of Encore azaleas in a foundation planting

The most common azalea in Alabama is the big Indian type.

Aromi hybrid azaleas are great flowering hybrids of our native species.

Our native deciduous azaleas are beautiful additions to any garden.

So you want to add azaleas to your garden. Be careful because they come in all sizes and there are both evergreen and deciduous types. You can easily Google the name and find out what type it is from the tag, but here are few simple guidelines to help you select a good one for your garden space. The most popular azaleas in the market place today are the Encore azaleas. The reason is that with proper care they will bloom spring, summer, and fall. All of the types do well in our area, but I have found the autumn series preform the best for me. Expect them to grow to 4 or 5 feet high and equally as wide after five or six years. The large azaleas that Mobile is noted for are the Indian types. They can easily grow 6 to 8 feet tall and as wide in our area, but I have seen them suffer some cold damage in extreme winters. The most popular types in the trade before the encores were the Kurume, and while they are heavy bloomers their blooms hang on after they finish blooming, which is a negative. They are still good azaleas for medium size plants, but there are superior selections in the market, like the Robin Hill and Crane Hill hybrids that are far superior in my mind. The late blooming evergreen gumpos, which rarely gets over 3 feet, are still a favorite of mine because the flowers and foliage mingle well, and they bloom in late spring
All of the ones discussed above I are evergreen, but I hope you might consider our native species and their hybrids. My father called them wild honeysuckle bushes because of their fragrance in spring. Their colors range from our Alabama azalea which is pure white to the Plumleaf azalea which is deep orange and blooms in July. Florida flame (orange-yellow) and Pinxterbloom (pink) are the ones you most commonly see in local garden centers. The Aromi types and the Confederate Series are great hybrids that have exceptional flowers especially with regard to size and color types.
Whether you select an evergreen or a deciduous azalea, their growing requirements are the same. They prefer high filtered shade, but my son’s building landscape has some in full sun and they are doing okay. The plants love fertile organic soil that is well drained and mulched. Water is a must during dry periods, because if stressed in a dry period, you will loose them if they are not well established. Once they finish blooming fertilize with 12-6-6 or 15-0-15 (so that means three times a year for Encore azaleas). Azaleas are susceptible to insects and diseases, but using the granular tree and shrub control (like Bayer) generally keeps the plant healthy. So remember, you can find any color of azalea you want except blue, but there is such a variety of sizes and types check out what you need and buy accordingly.

John Floyd

John Floyd has been gardening--and learning about Birmingham area gardening--for more than 30 years. In addition to his day-to-day experience, John has degrees in horticulture from Auburn and Clemson Universities and was Editor-in-Chief of Southern Living.

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