In Trees and Shrubs

Azaleas for the Home Garden: Flowering Shrubs for Landscape Use

picture of a red azalea flower

 

Azaleas for the home garden are common. But the flower itself is anything but common. It’s beautiful, attracts butterflies, and lends itself to many uses in the landscape.

Azaleas for the Home Garden – They Remind Me of Home

I love azaleas. As a child, I used to pick the flowers and try to press them to save them the way we did with pansies and wildflowers. They never lasted! When I got my first camera, a little Kodak 110, I snapped photos of the May gardens in my hometown Floral Park, and azaleas always featured prominently.

We had a few azaleas in the backyard, including a yellow azalea that was kind of rare on Long Island. I found out much later on as an adult that my dad was also fascinated by azaleas and when he and my mom first bought our house, he tried to plant the whole yard with them. Then he realized he’d only have flowers in May, so he quickly added others, but he bought that orange-yellow azalea via mail order.  It struggled along in a lovely little spot under a dogwood tree in the corner of our postage-stamp sized garden.

I think my big sister rescued it and dug it up before we sold my dad’s house.  It’s a good thing if she did since the new homeowners ripped out all the landscaping and planted grass everywhere. I always wonder if they realize why their grass grows so well. It’s all that compost underneath from the 40 years my dad gardened! Azaleas for the home garden always remind me of this story!

Azaleas for the Home Landscape

Azaleas have been cultivated for over a thousand years in Asia, and today are one of America’s favorite landscaping shrubs. These flowering shrubs offer year-round evergreen color for the front landscape as well as weeks of beautiful, colorful flowers in the spring.  Azaleas may grow to be 10 feet or taller or remain small, depending on the variety.

The most common colors for the home garden are white and shades of pink and red. Orange and yellow azaleas are also available but are tricky to grow. Gardeners love azaleas for their easy-going nature, year-round color, and flowers in the spring.

Choosing Azaleas for the Home Garden

Successful cultivation of azalea flowering shrubs depends upon choosing the variety suited to your climate. Gardeners describe climate according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Gardening Zones. Depending on your zone, you can choose:

  • Colder climates (the northern USA, typically Zones 6-4): Choose among the Karume and Satsuki azaleas. Satsuki azaleas most commonly found in garden centers include “Gumpo White” (pictured here) and Gumpo Pink. Karume azaleas can withstand winter temperatures that dip into the 5 to 10-degree range; Sasuki azaleas can take temperatures below 5 degrees.
  • Warm climates (the southern USA, zones 7-9): Azaleas for your southern, warm climate gardens include the Southern Indicas, which can only survive temperatures above 20 degrees or so, and the Rutherford azaleas, a bushy shrub-type that also survives only to 20 degrees.

If you’re new to growing azaleas, shop locally for your first shrubs. Your local home and garden center should choose plants suitable for your part of the country and the selection offered for sale typically includes plants the garden center manager knows will thrive in your gardening zone. Once you get the hang of growing azaleas, you can look online or through gardening catalogs to choose different varieties.

Success Growing Azaleas

Azaleas are one of the most versatile landscaping shrubs. They tolerate partial shade to full sun, but in warmer climates prefer some shade.  In parts of Asia where they grow wild, they often grow as understory plants, thriving in the shade of taller trees and shrubs. They prefer acidic, well-drained soil.

Many homeowners insist they can’t grow azaleas. They’ve planted azaleas and had them die year after year. One of the problems with adding azaleas as foundation plants near the home is that home building compacts the soil near the foundation. Azaleas do not like heavy soil or compacted soil and their roots cannot grow through the thick, packed down soil most commonly found close to a house. Try adding compost to the soil before planting the azalea, and consider a pH test to ensure that the soil is slightly acidic.

 

Landscape Design Tips for Planting Azaleas

Ready to choose some azaleas to add to your flowering shrubs for the home landscape? Here are some tips for successfully incorporating azaleas into your landscape design projects:

  • Choose the right height of azalea: If you’re planting azaleas close to the house, look at the tag on the plant at the garden center and consider its final height.  If it’s planted under a window, you want a plant that remains dwarf or small, or else you’re going to be out there pruning it year after year. Conversely, if you have a spot where a large specimen is needed, look for taller varieties and fast-growing varieties.
  • Consider color: If you have a red brick home, white is the safest color of azalea. The red and hot pink colors tend to clash with brick colors.
  • Group the azaleas for effect: Group plants in odd-numbered groups for a natural effect.
  • Don’t prune them down to nothing: Let your plants become established before pruning them. Nothing looks more artificial than azaleas pruned into little pompom shapes like over-dressed poodles in the landscape. Overzealous pruning efforts also keep azaleas from budding and will reduce the number of flowers your azaleas produce.
  • Give them room: Read the tags on the plants and leave plenty of space between azaleas. At first the space may bother you but don’t give in to the temptation of planting flowering shrubs too closely together. To fill in the gaps between the plants, plant a few annuals.

 

Azalea Folklore and Facts

  • In Japan, some azaleas are centuries old, and have trunks like small trees.
  • There are over 10,000 known cultivars of azaleas.
  • Azaleas are propagated by cuttings.
  • Azaleas are native to Asia, Europe, and North America.
  • Many cities have Azalea Festivals in the spring to celebrate these beautiful flowering shrubs.
  • Azalea is the flower associated with the zodiac sign of Sagittarius.
  • The word “azalea” comes from the Greek word meaning “dry”.

The next time you pass a house with azaleas near the front door, think of all these wonderful facts about the common azalea, truly a unique flowering shrub for the yard.

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