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What is an Azalea?

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  • Last Modified Date: 28 September 2014
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An azalea is a plant in the Rhododendron genus. Rhododendrons and azaleas are very similar, and sometimes the line between the two blurs, but as a general rule, azaleas are smaller, with flowers which tend to be fragrant. Another key different between azaleas and other plants which share their genus is that the azalea has deciduous leaves, while other rhododendrons or “rhodies” are evergreen. Even with these distinctions, however, people will occasionally disagree on what is an azalea and what is a rhododendron.

Azaleas have funnel-shaped flowers which grow one to a stem, in colors which can include white, yellow, orange, red, purple, and pink, among others. The plants come into bloom in the spring, and they are covered in stems, so the whole plant can become a solid mass of color. Blooming usually lasts around two months, after which the flowers will drop off, and the foliage will persist for several more months before dropping in the fall.

Some azalea cultivars are dwarf varieties, ideal for things like edging flower beds and growing in pots, while others can grow quite large if they are given the space to do so. All prefer acidic, slightly damp soil, and they need to be kept out of the wind and in partial shade. Shade is key during the heat of the day, when the plants are very vulnerable to damage.

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These plants are typically grown from cuttings, because growing from seed can be unreliable and painstaking. Many garden supply stores carry young azalea plants suitable for transplanting, and it is also possible to give potted azaleas as gifts to gardeners who can later transplant them. These plants will grow in USDA zones four through nine, although they can have a tough time in the upper end of this range.

An azalea can grow for fifty years or more, so it pays to think ahead when planting it to ensure that the placement is ideal. Azaleas can be planted in the spring before their blooming period, or in the fall. The soil should be prepared by being mixed with compost, peat, and a little bit of sand, and the roots of the plant should be broken up before planting to make sure that they take hold in the new soil. In the winter, the roots should be mulched to prevent damage.

Some examples of azalea cultivars include: flame azaleas, fragrant whites, pinxter flower, and swamp honeysuckle.

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LisaLou
Post 10

If you are looking for a nice gift for someone in the spring, an azalea is a great choice. This perennial will continue to bloom for them for many springs to come.

Some of the newer varieties are hardier than some of the old fashioned ones. I live between zones 4 and 5 and have had no trouble keeping my azalea's through our cold winters.

A few years ago I bought some bright orange azalea shrubs. I had a lot of pink and purple flowers and was looking for something different.

The orange really adds a pop of color, and I have enjoyed the butterflies and hummingbirds that visit my azalea plants.

It is hard for me to find a blooming shrub that I don't like, but azalea's are easy to grow, and you can count on them to put on a show every year.

John57
Post 9

I received a beautiful lavender colored azalea bonsai tree as a gift. I immediately adored this unique plant and my only concern was I had never taken care of a bonsai plant before.

My friend who gave it to me has quite a green thumb, so she was a big help. She told me to keep it out of direct sunlight and to avoid over watering this plant.

Another interesting tip she told me was not to fertilize it when it was blooming. This could cause more damage (in loss of flowers) than benefit. Other than that, be sure and give it some fertilizer once a month.

When this azalea plant is in bloom, it is so stunning, and looks so perfect, that if you didn't know any better, you would think it was artificial.

I don't know if the fertilizer tip is just for an azalea bonsai, or if it would apply to all kinds of azalea plants.

golf07
Post 8
I have both rhododendrons and azaleas in my yard, and every spring I look forward to their bright, colorful blooms.

One of the things I love about the azalea's are they stay in bloom longer than my rhododendron plants do. They also have a nice fragrance that I have never noticed with the rhododendron's.

I have a rock garden on the east side of my house where I have some dwarf azalea planted. The nice part about this is it gets the early morning sun. By noon the sun is over the house, and they don't get the hot afternoon sun.

I have a mixture of pink and purple colored azaleas. They blend in beautifully with the other flowers I have. The azalea's are one of the first flowers to bloom in the spring, and I always get excited when I see them after a long winter.

JessicaLynn
Post 7

Azaleas definitely have a tradition in the United States. In fact, white azaleas (and other kinds too) are actually native to North America. So it's not surprising they figure into local culture.

I know there are a few different cities that have azalea festivals, including Norfolk, Virginia where I happen to have family. They go to their local azalea festival every year, and apparently it's a pretty big deal in that area. And also quite lovely!

ceilingcat
Post 6

@strawCake - There are definitely some types of plants it's better to just buy as a clipping, and azalea shrubs are one of them! They look great, but I don't think they're worth trying to grow from seed.

I had azaleas in my yard growing up too. Our yard was very shady, so azaleas were the perfect plant for us to have in our yard. Even so, we did have a few problems with our azaleas.

I remember one year our azaleas got azalea leafy gall, which is fungal infection of the leaves. We had to pick each infected leaf off the plant one by one! It was pretty tedious, but the plant survived.

strawCake
Post 5

My mom planted several azalea varieties in our yard when I was growing up. Gardening was one of her main hobbies, so our yard always looked awesome! My mom would pick a mix of annuals (plants that only last one season) and perennials (plants that grow back year after year) to use in the yard.

Azaleas are perennial, so she would use them in areas of the yard that she didn't want to replant every single year. Also, if I remember correctly, she definitely bought them as small bushes from the local store. My mom is good at gardening, but even she didn't want to bother with growing azaleas from seed!

OeKc05
Post 4

@kylee07drg - You might try adding pine needles around them for mulch. I have always heard that pine needles will increase the soil’s acidity, and azaleas like an acidic soil.

I have access to pine trees at my parents’ house. The ground beneath the grove of pines is covered with them, and the soil under the needles is very rich. I just scoop it all up together, and I applied the soil and needles around my azalea bushes.

It helps to water them periodically after you apply the mulch. This ensures that the nutrients soak into the soil, where they can feed your plant.

kylee07drg
Post 3

I planted some azalea bushes two years ago, and though they are still alive with green leaves, they haven’t bloomed at all. I’m a little worried that I may be doing something wrong.

I have been adding fertilizer, but it must not be the right kind. I’ve been using 13-13-13 all around the base of the bushes, and I’ve been blending it into the soil with a hoe. I’m beginning to think that this fertilizer must not be what they need.

Does anyone know what I can do to make them healthier? Their leaves have only turned light green, which doesn’t look too promising.

Oceana
Post 2

@Perdido - It depends on where you live. Azaleas do alright in the shade if you live in the South, where the sun could potentially scorch them, but they don’t do so hot up North, where it isn’t as warm in spring and summer.

As a general rule, growing them in a location where the shadows from a tree fall during part of the day is best. They flower more when they get at least a little bit of sun.

My friend has some azaleas growing in full shade, and they don’t have as many blooms as my father’s azaleas. His get shade in the afternoon, when it is hottest.

Perdido
Post 1

A church in my neighborhood has several old, large azalea bushes on their lawn. They have placed them near the sidewalk that rounds the building, so they have beautiful flowering bushes on two sides of the church yard.

Since I work in a building right behind the church, I get the pleasure of seeing the azaleas in bloom every day during their flowering season. The white ones look so pure, untainted by road pollution and dirt. They also have light pink and fuchsia azaleas, to add some color to the yard.

This church is right on the corner of the town square, so they have done a good job of beautifying their section of it. Seeing the azaleas every day has made me want to plant some in my own yard, but it has so many trees that it is always in the shade. Does anyone know if azaleas will do alright in full shade?

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