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Now don’t think for a second that you will find any beautiful young ladies among these pages but, then again, maybe you will. The benefits of native plants have generated quite a bit of interest over the past few years and for many good reasons. Native plants are naturally adapted to our rugged local climate and most often offer easy care as well. Selecting an appropriate native plant usually means less time, energy and effort needed to keep these plants thriving in your landscape. Never the less, even native plants require proper placement in the garden allowing for their specific likes and dislikes.
One family of underutilized natives that deserve more attention is azaleas. There are many azalea species native to the East Coast as well as many hybrids selectively bred from native azalea varieties.
First, to clear up a common misconception, there is no clear distinguishing difference between all azalea and all rhododendrons but, most all azaleas are deciduous (loose their leaves in the winter) and most all rhododendrons are evergreen. The most popular (and numerous) azaleas available are, in fact, hybrid crosses between evergreen rhododendron and native azalea species. The resulting plants are small leafed, mostly spring blooming, evergreen shrubs. Our native azaleas are varied and different in almost every way. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular native azaleas that are the best performers for our local gardens.
Azalea arborescens or Sweet Azalea grows 5’ tall and wide being narrow at the base forming a small, tree-like shrub. Fragrant white to light pink flowers open in June. Glossy, dark green foliage becomes red-orange in fall. Deciduous native prefers light shade and moist, acid soil. Native to eastern U.S.
Azalea calendulaceum or Flame Azalea is a medium sized native azalea with elongated leaves turning a fiery orange-red in autumn. Flowers varying in rich colors from yellow to orange or scarlet in May and June on plants 6’ tall and wide. Flame Azalea prefers light shade and are excellent in natural settings or mass plantings. Native to eastern U.S.
Azalea canescens or Piedmont Azaleas grow 10’ tall and wide becoming thick with branches after years of growth. (Similar to a Lilac) Fragrant pink to white flowers in April on these large shrubs that prefer shady sites in moist but well-drained soil. Native to southeastern U.S.
Azalea periclymenoides (Pinxterbloom Azalea) This deciduous, fragrant-flowered azalea forms a rounded shrub 6’ tall and wide. Pale pink flowers appear in May. This Ohio native azalea is exceptionally useful for naturalizing in drier sites where other azaleas may not thrive.
Azalea prunifolium (Plumleaf Azalea) This native azalea grows up to 5’ tall and wide and is best in a moist but well drained site in partial shade. One of the last Azaleas to bloom, the orange-red to red flowers this native azalea provides in June- August will extend the bloom season of native azaleas from early spring through August.
Azalea vaseyi or Pinkshell Azalea is a hardy, deciduous, native azalea with medium green summer foliage changing to shades of light red in fall. Bell-shaped flowers of clear rose appear before leaves in spring on plants that can grow up to 6’ tall and wide. Pinkshell Azaleas have a spectacular floral show that best grow in a shady, natural setting or mass planting.
Azalea viscosum (Swamp Azalea) Fragrant white flowers open during the heat of June and July. The plant forms a bushy shrub with lustrous green foliage. Grows well in sun or shade, wet or normal conditions. Colorful red colored foliage in fall. This deciduous azalea is a native to eastern U.Sv. ‘Pink Mist’
Azalea v. ‘Weston’s Pink and Sweet’ forms masses of spicy fragrant pink flowers with a lighter pink and yellow throat that cover the plant in mid to late June. The long green foliage becomes bronzed in summer turning shades of purple-red, orange and yellow in the fall. Selected from native species, this shrub grows 6’ tall and wide and is not fussy about where it grows.
Azalea v. ‘Weston’s Innocence’ is a heavy flowering shrub growing up to 6’ tall. Sweetly scented, small white flowers cover the plant in late June and early July. The glossy, deep green foliage takes on hues of burgundy-red in fall. Selected from a native cross, Innocence forms a small tree-like specimen with age.
Azalea v. ‘Weston’s Lemon Drop’ is a vigorous summer flowering azalea with stiff upright branches topped with peach buds and pale yellow flowers in mid-July. The blossoms have a slight lemony aroma and hold up well in the heat of summer. Foliage is a dusty blue-green changing to hues of dark pink-red to yellow in fall. Only growing 4’ tall this is a good choice where a smaller plant is desired.
Azalea v. ‘Weston’s Lollipop’ has extremely fragrant, pink blossoms in mid to late June. This hybrid of native azaleas arborescens and viscosum grows to 6’ tall with dark green leaves turning brilliant shades of red-orange in September and October.
Azalea v. ‘Weston’s Parade’ has pink flowers with light pink and yellow flares in mid-June. Fragrance is moderately heavy and sweet, lingering in the garden. Growth habit is wide and slow (5’ x5’) with upright stems bearing medium green foliage that turns red-orange in fall.
Azalea v. ‘Weston’s Pennsylvania’ is a very late bloomer, flowering in late July to early August with delicate pink flowers that have an orange eye and sweet fruit fragrance. The apple green foliage turns to shades of coppery yellow in autumn. Pennsylvania is a hybrid of A. viscosum and prunifolium growing 5’ tall and wide.
Azalea v. ‘Weston’s Popsicle’ produces fragrant deep pink flowers with orange eyes in June. The plant has an upright form to 5’. The green foliage turns burgundy in fall. Selected from native cross.
These azaleas offer all we are looking for in our garden plants… hardiness, color, fragrance and multiple season interest. There is enough variety available that nearly every garden has a choice location for one of these native azaleas. Don’t expect to find these beauties bathing at your local garden center. While native plants are growing in popularity, most of these azaleas have very limited availability and may require a special order especially if a larger specimen is desired.
Now go outside and have fun in the dirt.