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Deciduous Azaleas Dazzle With Color

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Flame Azalea

Deciduous azaleas may not compete with their evergreen relatives in popularity, but they definitely have their place, especially in naturalized landscapes. Such landscapes take advantage of existing native plants, especially large trees, often incorporating them all into a mulched area which reduces the need for mowing. Deciduous azaleas can add to these settings by providing impact with their flowers without detracting from the natural look. Deciduous azaleas, which botanically are in the genus Rhododendron, generally do well in the typical azalea conditions of filtered shade and acidic, well-drained soil with a high organic matter content.

Unlike evergreen azaleas, some of their deciduous cousins can be found growing wild in the southeastern U.S. One of the showiest species is the flame azalea, Rhododendron calendulaceum. This species and other native azaleas in the mountains are sometimes called honeysuckle. The flowers are frequently a bright orange although they may range into yellow or red. One of the most widely distributed species is Rhododendron periclymenoides (formerly Rhododendron nudiflorum), sometimes called the pinxterbloom azalea. It features pink flowers and, like the flame azalea, blooms in the spring. The plumleaf azalea, Rhododendron prunifolium, is different in that its orange to orange-red blooms arrive in the summer.

Although many hybrid cultivars of deciduous azaleas have been developed, some are not heat tolerant. Good choices are species that are native to your part of North Carolina or named cultivars which may have been developed using these species. The hybrid rhododendron collection at the JC Raulston Arboretum (JCRA) at NC State University is extensive and will provide many ideas for your garden. Look for ‘Early Red Flame’, a cultivar of the flame azalea, on the east side of the JCRA. Learn more at jcra.ncsu.edu.

Kevin Starr