Every year in the late spring and early summer bright azalea and rhododendron bushes catch our eyes with their elegant beauty. They can be easily spotted in the landscape with their large vibrant blossoms that stand out with vivid shades of white, red, pink, purple and even orange.
While they are extremely popular in the landscapes of upscale golf courses and beautiful plantations, they’re also extremely popular to grow at home due to their low maintenance qualities.
Up until recently azaleas and rhododendrons only bloomed once year, and gardeners waited for months until the spring to see their flowering shrubs light up their yards. However, now there are all natural hybrids that bloom twice and even three times per season!
This guide serves as everything you need to know about growing your own azalea shrubs at home.
Azaleas Vs Rhododendrons
If you’ve ever found yourself wondering what the difference between azaleas and rhododendrons are then you aren’t alone! You might notice that these two plant varieties look similar, and this is because azaleas are actually from the rhododendron family. Every azalea is a rhododendron, but every rhododendron isn’t necessarily an azalea.
Generally Rhododendrons have bigger blooms and bigger foliage than azaleas. Also Rhododendrons are evergreens, but not all azalea varieties are.
The most noticeable difference between the two varieties is their flowers. Rhododendrons usually have 10 or more stamens, while azaleas have five. Also azalea flowers tend to be funnel shaped and rhododendrons are bell shaped. When in doubt, you’ll always be safe when referring to an azalea as a rhododendron.
A Little History
Azaleas or Rhododendrons are descendants of the Ericaceae family and are related to blueberries and pieris. They’re also believed to have evolved from camellias.
While being native to different countries all over the world, with about 26 varieties native to North America their origins date back to over 70 million years ago.
Azaleas come up in history again and again with mentions of being first cultivated by Buddhist monks. A Chinese poem from 772 A.D. references azaleas as ‘A beauty amidst all flowers’.
In the later 1600s the spread of azaleas really got started. Japanese varieties were shipped to Holland and then made their way to England, France, Belgium and Germany where they became extremely popular to grow.
These highly sought after varieties first came from England to Charleston around 1850 when they became a must have for botanists all over the country. By crossing our native azalea varieties with Asian varieties, the hybrid varieties created the hybrid azaleas we have today, with encore blooming cycles and long lasting color.
Azalea and Rhododendron Varieties
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Azalea and Rhododendron Planting and Care
Before planting your azalea check your growing zone. While some rhododendrons are cold hardy to growing zone four and can withstand temperatures down to -30 degrees, most azaleas are cold hardy to growing zone six. Meaning that when planted outdoors they are only cold tolerant to negative 10 degrees.
If your area gets colder than that, place your azalea in a container and bring it indoors during the winter. Be sure to place your plant in a bright room.
Keep in mind that Azaleas prefer acidic soil. Use a pH meter from your local gardening store to test the acidity of your soil. Its pH should range between 5.5 and 6.0. To raise the acidity of your soil, add organic matter like mulch or peat moss to it.
When planting your azaleas outdoors select an area of your yard that receives full to partial sunlight and dig a hole that’s three times the width of the root mass and just as deep. Then inspect the hole and remove any debris like rocks, grass clumps or dirt clumps from the planting area and use a shovel or pitchfork to loosen the soil around the sides of the hole.
Place your azalea in the hole and make sure that the root flare, or the area where the roots meet the trunk, is level with the surrounding ground. Also, make sure that your shrub is standing straight up vertically in the hole. If you’re not sure if your plant is straight, measure it with a level.
Then gently backfill your soil and give your azalea a long drink of water until the soil becomes moist, but not over saturated. Azaleas won’t tolerate soggy soil. If your azalea is in a container make sure there are drainage holes at the bottom of the pot. Drainage holes can be added with a drill.
Water your plant regularly until it becomes established, then it will be fine on its own, accept for during long periods of droughts and extreme heat. To avoid mold, water your plants at their bases in the early morning. If water droplets dry on the leaves, molds like leaf spot can occur.
It’s best to fertilize your azaleas after each blooming cycle. Once their blooms start to drop give them an all-natural organic fertilizer that’s high in acidity. Formulas like 10-5-4 or 10-6-8 will be great for your azaleas.
Prune your azaleas in the early spring before the new growing season begins. It’s very easy to shape azaleas and to keep them at a certain height. Use a sharp, sterile pair of loppers or hand pruners and cut the branches at 45-degree angles that face upwards to promote new growth.
Enjoy Multiple Blooming Cycles Every Summer
Bring in the season with our new and improved azalea varieties that bloom multiple times per season. They will fill your landscape with classic, elegant color in the spring, summer and fall. Best of all these new azalea and rhododendron varieties have a much higher-level of resistance to pests and disease, so nothing stops them from flourishing, inside and out.