We are now in what I would call the Second Phase of our Mid-South Spring. Most of the traditional spring flowering bulbs, such as Tulips, Daffodils and Hyacinths have finished blooming or are about to do so. The many cultivars of Japanese Cherries are already just a memory and Redbuds are just past peak bloom. These are,plus many other less known species have been brightening landscapes all over the Mid-South for the past couple of months.
Now as we move into early April, three plants seem to dominate our gardens as they explode into bloom. Azaleas, Dogwoods and Wisteria seem to be everywhere! Isn't it funny that most non-gardeners only notice plants when they are in bloom?
are favorites of almost everyone. While there are native Southeastern species, the majority of the Azaleas in our gardens are Asian in origin. The majority Most are evergreen. There are literally hundreds of varieties. Almost every shade of red, pink, white and purple that you could imagine, plus bi-colors and even yellow and orange. Sorry, there are no blue blooms.
The three most common groups in bloom now are Kurume, Southern Indica, and Glen Dale Hybrids. There are close to 300 cultivars in the Glen Dale hybrids alone. Azaleas are classified as Rhododendrons, but what most people think of as Rhododendrons are the large broadleaf evergreen plants that bloom later in the spring in the mountains of East Tennessee. Because they like cooler temperatures and great drainage, they seldom make satisfactory garden plants in our part of the state.
All Azaleas have shallow root systems and like humus rich, but well drained, slightly acid soil. Most of the native species are a little harder to cultivate than the hybrids, but are worth the effort. The natives are all large plants, most of them can be anywhere from 6 to 12 feet in height. They are deciduous, so most of the early flowering species bare their blooms before the plant leafs out for the season. They do not respond well to pruning to control their size. They do make magnificent specimens when grown in the right situation. They are extremely appropriate in a shady woodland setting. Some of the native species such as the Plumleaf Azalea,
sports it's orange blooms as late as July.
Encore Azaleas are relative newcomers to the Azalea scene. There is an article in this month's Southern Living magazine that talks about how these complicated reblooming azaleas were developed by Buddy Lee of Transcend Nursery in Louisiana. The Encore will bloom several times a season if managed correctly. They have a great range of colors and a variety of sizes at maturity. They even like a little more sun than other Azaleas. My only caution with this group is to watch what you have nearby in fall blooming perennials or fall color of foliage. Purple or pink Azaleas might not be the perfect foil for bronze mums or the yellow autumn foliage on a Japanese maple.