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DALY: Native azaleas are an attractive feature to the home landscape

The use of native plants is becoming more popular since they are better adapted to the growing conditions in our area than many plant hybrids are. Among the most beautiful and interesting are the native azaleas. These plants are valued for their spectacular displays of colorful flowers in shades of red, orange, pink, and white, not to mention their excellent fragrance.

Often those who are not familiar with native azaleas think they are some type of honeysuckle because of the similarity of the shape of the flowers. Native azaleas are deciduous shrubs meaning they lose their leaves during the winter months. They can vary in size from less than two feet tall to species that can spread more than twenty feet.

Native azaleas, like other azaleas and rhododendrons, prefer acidic soils with a pH between 5.0 and 5.5. The best time to fertilize the native azaleas is in the spring with a well-balanced fertilizer specific for azaleas and camellias. The plants prefer sites that are in partial shade, preferably areas that receive morning sun and shade during the afternoon. Plant native azaleas in well-drained soil since poor drainage can cause root rot diseases, thus stunting or killing the plants.

When planting in poorly drained soil, add composted organic matter to the soil, and plant the crown root ball slightly higher than ground level. Azaleas are usually pruned from just after blooming through mid-July, after which they begin forming next year’s flower buds. Pruning any later in the year will interfere with bud setting and will reduce the number of flowers the following year.

Native azaleas come in many colors and blooming times. The piedmont azalea has pink white fragrant flowers and can reach a height of 15 feet. They are the most common in natural areas and among the first to bloom. The flame azalea has yellow to orange blossoms. In the fall, the foliage is bright red. The sweet azalea has white fragrant flowers that bloom in May and June. The plumleaf azalea has orange to red flowers and blooms in July.

Native azaleas are a worthy addition to the garden. When planted and maintained correctly, they will resist pests and bring beauty to the garden.

Several varieties of native azaleas are among the plants that are available at the 2014 Gwinnett Extension Plant sale. Go to the Extension website at http://www.ugaextension.com/gwinnett to download the order form or call the Extension office for a form to be mailed to you.

Timothy Daly, MS, is an Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent, Gwinnett County Extension. Tim may be contacted by phone at 678-377-4010 or by email at tdaly@uga.edu.