Azaleas, Exotic Colors Shapes and Forms

Some lovely light lilac azaleas.
Some lovely light lilac azaleas. | Source

Azaleas, A Good, Hardy Bunch

Azaleas which are synonymous with rhododendrons are very common in gardens across the U.S, and its very easy to take them for granted. They are like an old friend who is always there. That doesn't mean they are not amazing in their own right. One of the oldest plants in the world; (about 70 million years old), with a very wide distribution, they can last at least 30 years. From very low ground cover, to medium size trees to large shrubs, they are a plant I wouldn't be without.

Their range covers parts of Asia, Europe, North America, New Guinea and Australia. I've had mine for 16 years and know from the previous owner (my darling second mom) who could grow anything, that they are at least 30 years old.The word azalea literally means dry; they can and do flourish in dry soil (of course not bone dry, but dry). For a lazy gardner the azalea is pretty carefree once it is established. It is a woody plant, sturdy and strong and evergreen, or, some native azaleas can be deciduous (drop their leaves at the end of the bloom season and grow new ones in the Spring). When you plant your azalea, follow the directions and don't plant too deep, they like their roots at a shallow level. Do mulch yearly. This will give them support and some protection from the heat. Above 900F and it get rough on them. Most azaleas like some shade. A lot of them grow quite contentedly in a woodland garden (dappled light and shade). A reliable beauty year in and year out, the azalea species is relatively trouble free and disease resistant. If you do have problems, you can look for solutions at your local county extension service. or call a local arboretum. Another great way to take care of your azaleas is to cultivate garden friends. Take a walk around the neighborhood, strike up a conversation with somebody who's working in their garden and ask them how they keep their azaleas so healthy.

They like acidic soil, which means they like their ph level of the soil lower than 7. You can keep the ph around 5.5 by incorporating pine mulch and some coffee grounds around your azalea shrub. If you have some, take your used coffee grounds and sprinkle them around the base of the plant. About a cup will do every six weeks or thereabouts. They will tell you when they need something. Basically, once they are established, they are better off left alone. They will thank you with a profusion of blooms. Pruning properly will help a huge amount in maintaining your azalea's health. Think of it as a beauty pit stop for azaleas. Be careful with pruning your azaleas. In most cases they really don't like it and don't really need it. A subtle nudge in the right direction is what they need; not a bur haircut!! If there are a lot of dead limbs, prune those out down to the point at which you see healthy green inside the woody stem. Lucky for you, even if you prune harshly, nine times out of ten your azalea will come back. A word of warning, though: If you are doing maintenance pruning, trim very soon after bloom time and before buds for next year's flowers form; otherwise you'll be cutting off the beginnings of next year's blooms. If done correctly, they'll come back beautiful next year and stronger than before. These plants definitely get better as they get older!

Few Problems, Many Benefits

Evergreen azaleas look good year round; they don't lose their color during the winter and sometimes (even in the summer) the leaves turn a little red or bronzey; a fitting hue for the holidays if the bronzing happens in the fall or winter. Speaking of hues, azaleas are available in all colors except blue shades.  You can fine tropical oranges, and lemony yellows along with a wide color range of pinks, reds, purples, lilac and of course white. Heights vary, from low to the ground to large shrubs.  Uncultivated varieties in the wild grow much larger.  Most azaleas bloom in the spring for about three weeks or sometimes longer. Some are fragrant, some aren't but they're all long lived. The best part of being an azalea is that they seem to get healthier and hardier as they age. Wouldn't that be great if we could age in that way! Could azaleas be the fountain of youth? (hmmm..another thought for another hub).  I ask you, what's not to love?

Colors and Forms

There are hundreds of varieties of Azaleas. Colors can include delicate lilacs, true purples, cool pinks, warm salmon pinks, reds, oranges, yellows and whites, some fringed with a touch of another color. They are generally five petaled with deeper colored dashes (in the same color family) when you look inside of these beauties. They also have some fanciful spurs. Talk a walk around your neighborhood. Chances are you will find one of these beauties right under your nose These are just a few that I have seen in my neighborhood. Happy gardening!

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