Azaleas

June 7
The sheep were sick last night, and many of them are still far from well, hardly able to leaves camp, coughing, groaning, looking wretched and pitiful, all from eating leaves of the blessed azalea. So, at least, say the shepherd and the Don. Having but little grass since they left the plains, they are starving, and so eat anything green they can get. Sheep men cal azalea sheep-poison, and wonder what the Creator was thinking about when He made it…

John Muir, My First Summer In The Sierra, 1911

 

If you have ever seen a well planned azalea garden which can show color from October through June, then you know what He was thinking. Azaleas are an extremely versatile and showy group of plants. They can be used in pots, mass plantings, as specimens, in tree form, espalliered or as hedges, and thus can find a place in almost any garden.

The name Azalea comes from the Greek azaleos meaning to be parched. Linneus, when he named the shrub, believed that it thrived only in the dry, rocky woods of its native habitat. Azaleas were first introduced to Europe in the 1600s by the Dutch East India Company, along with a boatload of other Japanese plants. Subsequent cultivation has improved their appearance from woody shrubs to lush, colorful ones.

Azaleas are actually part of the 1000 specie Rhododendron family, 70 of which are know as Azaleas. Cultural requirements are basically the same for each. Acid, organic soil with both good drainage and moisture retention is essential. Fifty per cent peat moss, redwood compost, ground bark or leaf mold, added to 30% topsoil and 20% sand, makes a good light mix. Although Tom Nuccio, one of our southern California growers, prefers 1/3 perlite to 2/3 peat in his beautiful azalea pots.

In planting, dig a hole about 15 deep and 18-24 wide and place the rootball no deeper than it was in the container. For areas with alkaline soil (i.e. Marin County adobe), a bed raised a couple of feet works well. Mulch around the crown to protect the roots.

Don't over-fertilize your azaleas — 3-4 times between March and September using an acid-based food is adequate. However a fall feed of a 0-10-10 formula fertilizer will help flower buds to form. If the plant becomes chlorotic (yellow leaves with dark green veins) add chelated iron until the foliage greens again.

Azaleas can be pruned during peak bloom for cut flowers or any time thereafter until about August. A good yearly pinching of new growth can greatly improve the shape of the shrub.

Most azaleas will take a lot of sun, but partial shade from tall trees or an east or north exposure is the best location. The cooler the area, the more sun they will take, although all varieties will benefit from a wash of their foliage during hot weather.

Adapted from Bayviews Magazine - Gardening - March 1980, by Tom Perry

Belgian Indica Azaleas

These are hybrids originally developed for hothouse forcing but survive well in areas where the winters don't drop below 20-30*F. They have lush, green foliage reaching 2-3' and are profuse spring bloomers.
A few favorites are: California Peach (salmon), California Sunset (pink & white), Chimes (red), Happy Days (violet-purple), Plum Crazy (lilac-pink), Rose Glow (rose-red)

Southern Indica Azaleas

This is a variety selected from the Belgian indicas for increased sun tolerance. These are the so-called "Sun Azaleas" which grow more quickly, taller and more vigorously than the other azaleas. This group is hardy to 10-20* and is someshat less delicate and more open growing than others.
Some popular ones are: Brilliant (red), Duc de Rohan (salmon), Fielder's White (white), Formosa/Phoenicia (purple), George L. Tabor (lavender), Glory of Sunnyhill (orange), Little John (burgandy foliage with pink blooms), Mistrial (pink), Pride of Dorking (red), Pink Lace (pink), Red Ruffles (red), and Southern Charm (hot pink), White Grandeur (white), White Lace (white)

Rutherfordiana Azaleas

This is another greenhouse variety that is also good in gardens down to 20*. These compact azaleas grow 2-4' and bushy, displaying flowers resembling a cross between Belgian indicas and Kurumes.
Some of these are: Alaska (white), Dorothy Gish (red), L.J. Bobbink (pink-lavender), Rose Queen (pink), and White Gish (white)

Other Hybrid Azaleas

BROOKS HYBRIDS - developed in Modesto for heat resistance, compact growth and large flowers: Madonna (white)

Dwarf Azalea Varietes

Kurume Azaleas

These varieties make compact, twiggy shrubs with small, dense, boxwood-like foliage. These mounding shrubs are covered with somewhat smaller flowers in a spectacular spring display. Although hardy to 5-10*, Kurumes thrive in milder climates where they get some protection.
Among these are: Avalanche (white), Coral Bells (pink), Hexe (crimson), Hino-Crimson (bright red), Seraphim (purple), Sherwood Orchid (violet), Singing Fountain (salmon), Snow (white), and Ward's Ruby (red)

Macrantha Azaleas

This group includes Gumpo and Satsuki varieties and is made up of low growing, true dwarf and trailing shrubs. They are hardy to 5* and have large flowers which are late in blooming, often into June.
They include: Getsutoku (white/pink), Gumpo (white), Gumpo Oink (pink), and Hi-Gasa (bight pink), Nuccio's Wild Cherry (red)

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