Evergreen Azaleas For The Northwest Garden
Evergreen azaleas are often described as one of the most beautiful flowering shrubs in existence. I don't know if I would go quite that far in touting the merits of this plant, because of the beauty of such plants as heather; rhododendrons; camellias and other plant family's that provide such great garden color. Needless to say, they certainly are beautiful and have a place in almost every garden.
One of the outstanding characteristics of this plant is its prolific flowering habit. Some varieties, when in bloom, are so covered with flowers you can barely see the foliage below. Flowers range in size from miniatures to some that are several inches in diameter, some with single; semi-double or fully double flowers. Flower colors range in shades of pink, rose, red, white, scarlet, purple and some that are bi-color. Some varieties are delicately fragrant.
In addition to the evergreen azaleas there are some showy deciduous, mollis varieties, which certainly have value in the northwest garden. They are best known for their yellow, orange, salmon, scarlet or apricot flowers and attractive autumn leaf color. However today, let's just discuss the evergreen types.
Evergreen azaleas vary in growing height from some that are less than one foot in height to others that grow up to ten feet at maturity. Height can be somewhat controlled with simple pruning, which if needed, is done immediately after the plants have finished flowering.
When the plants are not in bloom, many varieties offer interesting foliage textures and seasonal leaf color. For example, the leaves of some varieties will turn shades of red and orange in the autumn. Keep in mind you look at the foliage all twelve months of the year, and the flowers for only about 3 to 4 weeks, so foliage color and texture are two very important considerations whenever you choose an azalea for your garden.
Although azaleas have been considered shade plants in the home garden, many varieties will do well in full sun. So be sure to select the proper variety for the right location in your garden.
If needed, the best time to fertilize azaleas is in late winter or late spring. Use a rhododendron type fertilizer to feed them. Spread the fertilizer at the drip-line of the plant, and water-in thoroughly after application.
As mentioned earlier the best time to prune azaleas is immediately after flowering. However, they can be pruned at any time. Dead, decayed or broken branches should be removed as soon as possible.
Planting and Transplanting
Since most plants are now container grown they can be planted at any time. Transplanting of established plants, is best done during the winter months of November through February, at a time when the plants are dormant. A word to the wise: azaleas are like rhododendrons and camellias, they must be planted so that the top of the root ball is level with the soil surface. Planting them too deeply is apt to result in few if any flowers.
The most common pest is root weevils. One of the easiest ways to control this pest is to wrap a band of masking tape around the stem of the azalea, then cover the masking tape with 'Tanglefoot'. This product is a very sticky substance, so when the weevil climbs the plant it gets stuck and dies.
Azalea leaf gall can be an occasional problem. You will detect this condition, when you see a swelling of the leaf tissues. If there are just a few, simply pick-them-off. If the condition persists, spray with a copper fungicide, in early spring when the temperatures are between 45 and 65 degrees.
Mildew can be an occasional problem if the plants are situated in a cool moist area, where there is poor air circulation. Mildew appears as a white film on the leaf surface. Use an all-purpose fungicide to help control mildew. Apply according to label instructions.
There are countless varieties of evergreen azaleas, so it's difficult to list, even the most popular ones. However, here are half a dozen varieties that I have grown in my garden, and have proven durability and beauty:
Hino-crimson: Beautiful crimson-red flowers in late March and early April. Colorful reddish fall foliage.
Purple splendour: showy orchid-purple flowers in April and early May. Flowers appear double, but are what is called hose-in hose, one inside the other.
Everest: Pure white flowers in mid-season. Foliage is a nice bright healthy green.
Rosebud: Soft pink, the flowers resemble small rosebuds. Late April and early May flowering.
Gumpo: The two most popular varieties are the pink and white flowering ones. Low, spreading growth habit. Mid-season to late flowering.
Macrantha: Mid-June flowers are a showy rose-pink. In my garden it has a little faster growing habit then most other varieties.
I think the best time to choose and plant evergreen azaleas is when they are in bloom. That way you can select the exact flower color, size and foliage you desire.
These are excellent plants to use as foreground plants in flower and shrub beds; or to use as ground covers; for spot color or even in mass plantings. And, they are ideal companion plants to use with rhododendrons, camellias and other evergreens.