Variety selection can extend azalea season 3 months or more
Posted: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 8:00 pm
By: By Jimmy Williams
Well, the Paris Fish Fry and azalea season are over for another year. Or are they?
The Paris Fish Fry, yes; azaleas no.
Season extending plants of any description — woody or herbaceous — are valuable assets to any garden.
In the case of azaleas, there is that one-month blast of every color imaginable except blue
Then the azalea world for most people falls silent for another year.
It doesn’t have to be that way. By carefully choosing varieties that bloom extra early and extra late, the one-month show can be easily tripled.
Some people seem content to leave their azaleas when they quit and move on to red sage or some other equally utilitarian slapdash for the duration of summer. They are missing a lot.
Our own azalea season at Tennessee Dixter begins in March with one of my favorites, Azalea poukhanense.
This is the Korean mountain azalea, a species native to high elevations where temperatures regularly dive to 20 below zero, proving their cold hardiness.
Large pale purple blooms will repeat some in fall, given reasonable weather.
Right on their heels (some years coinciding) comes a more common plant, a Kurume azalea from Japan, Coral Bells.
The double flowers are a touchy pink with something like salmon (coral?), mitigated only with white or purple.
The two mentioned azaleas, in fact, go well together.
Even earlier is a rhododendron, which, for all practical purposes, is an azalea, PJM.
It has an azalea habit, with smaller leaves than most rhodos, and flowers of neon purple in early March if not sullied by freezes, which is a distinct possibility.
After these and a few others comes the full blast of azalea season, for a month or so, depending on the weather. But what about the tail end of the show?
There are plenty of season-extenders that will do you in good stead until June or, in a few cases, even later.
As we speak, we have a grouping of Gwenda azaleas, with numerous large apple-blossom pink flowers just going over.
This is one of many of the Robin Hill azaleas, with winter hardiness rated to zone 6. It has proven to be a spectacular late azalea for us, and never fails to draw comment, to wit during the garden tour a couple of weeks ago.
Among the more common of May flowering azaleas are those of the Gumpo series, in white, pink and variations of those colors, sometimes with more than one color on a bush.
Gumpos are low growing plants that are good foundation shrubs where minimum height is desired.
They are from the Satsuki family of Japanese azaleas, with numerous siblings.
Satsuki in Japanese means “fifth month,” and, indeed they do flower in May, as we speak in fact.
Gumpos can spread to three feet or more across and can be held to 18 inches or less tall. They are not as hardy as some, and in pre-Goreable warming days sometimes froze back, but not since “climate change.”
I have found that Gumpos like more sun than most azaleas.
Following the Gumpos in late May are the Macranthas, in pink, orange, white and maybe other colors.
Again, they are not as cold hardy and I have lost them in pre-climate change days to winter freezes.
They grow larger than the Gumpos, up to five feet or so. They will carry on into June in cool springs.
If one is willing to go to deciduous (leaf shedding) azaleas, there are several that will flower as late as July or August.
Among them are some species native to this country and their hybrids.
Spectacular is the plum-leaf azalea, Azalea prunifolium, which can grow to 15 feet tall and bear salmon to red flowers in August.
Most of these deciduous azaleas grow in an upright fashion, some reaching tree-like proportions.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 5.22.12