MAY 20, 2009
Set your yard on fire with a deciduous azalea
In the cacophony of Spring when there are so many plants coming into bloom it is often easy to overlook some. What with flowering cherries, magnolias, dogwoods and such, some plants just get lost in the shuffle. Deciduous azaleas are a classic example.
Very few deciduous shrubs can equal deciduous azaleas for showiness and color range, not to mention fragrance. Yet they are a tough sell in the nursery. Although evergreen azaleas keep their leaves all year they can’t match their deciduous brethren for blooms in the yellow, orange, coral, red and bicolor contrasts. The foliage often turns brilliant orange red to maroon in the fall and they will grow in full sun to part shade needing pretty much the same things that rhodies require only they are much less demanding.
In a one to five gallon pot in the nursery these wonderful shrubs don’t have a whole lot to offer (except their fabulous blooms of course). They can look leggy and misshapen when they are young and their blooms can be sparse. But give them a chance to get established in your garden and you will wonder why you didn’t plant some years ago.
When we purchased our house 20 years ago there were some of these azaleas planted next to our driveway. At the time I wasn’t familiar with them and since it was late August they weren’t much to look at anyway. But in the fall they turned a vibrant bronzy-red color and the following spring they burst into bloom with the most sweetly scented fragrance of any plant I have ever known.
Most deciduous azaleas grow to six or eight feet tall and are well suited for the back of the bed. Unlike the evergreen types, deciduous ones adapt well to full sun or partial shade and are not particular about soil or fertilizer. Every few years you can even chop them to the ground if you wish. The best time to prune them is just after they finish blooming. Give them a little rhodie food in the spring and a light dressing of mulch and they are set for the season. Supplemental water in the heat of the summer is a nice thing to do as well but not essential. You will get better bud set if you apply some summer water.
Now is the time to buy these plants when they are in full bloom and you can check out their true flower colors instead of trying to rely on a picture tag that might be faded. Just remember that despite the fact that they may look homely in a nursery pot, they will develop into one of your favorite shrubs in a few short years.
Here are some varieties that I think are especially garden worthy.
Cannon’s Double—a double light yellow with peach/orange blotch
Gibraltar—orange with good fragrance
Fragrant Star—white flowers with fabulous fragrance—foliage is bluish green
Arneson’s—any in this series are superb with high disease resistance and spectacular fall color.
Ruby—dark red flowers
Ruby Princess—same as above but smaller
Cameo—pink with an orange blotch
Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached at the nursery at 425-334-2002 or email at email@example.com