By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Imagine you have purchased a lovely azalea in just the color you wanted and eagerly anticipate the next season’s bloom. It may be just one or two blooms or it may be the whole plant. Do azaleas change colors? Many flowering plants change color as the bloom matures or can bear different flowers arising from the rootstock. However, azalea color change is usually something quite different and more fascinating.
There are over 10,000 cultivars of azalea. The huge diversity of size and color as well as the plant’s shade loving nature have made azaleas one of the premier landscape shrubs in many regions. Sometimes, the plants are observed having different colored azalea blooms. What can account for this since azaleas do not change flower color as they age? The anomaly is likely the result of a sport, one of nature’s little jokes as it continues to increase diversity in the world.
A sport is a genetic mutation that suddenly occurs. No one is sure if this is a response to environment, cultivation, stress, or simply as common as a human developing a mole. Sports result from a faulty chromosome replication. The resulting defect may occur only once or it may persist in the plant and be passed down to successive generations.
The sporting of azalea blooms and other plants can be a good thing. Collectors and breeders search high and low for unusual sports to breed and continue. The George L. Taber azalea is a well-known sport that is cultivated and sold the world over.
Azalea color changes may be an entire different tone, a subtle change in hue or bear interesting markings such as white speckles on the petals. In most cases, if a plant throws a sport, it will revert back the following season. Occasionally, the sport wins and the plant becomes characteristic of that new trait.
You can also save a sport by propagating that stem. When you observe different colored azalea blooms, you can cleanly remove that stem and either air or mound layer the material to cause it to root and preserve the new trait. Rooting will take some time, but you will have saved the original genetic material and assumedly it will produce the same effect.
Azaleas are just like humans and their blooms will fade as they get older. Azalea blooms turn color over time. The deep purple tones will become soft lilac in color while the magenta will fade to pink. A good rejuvenation pruning and some babying can help perk old bushes back up.
Fertilize with an acid lover’s formula in late winter to early spring but before the plant has flowered. Make sure to water it in well.
Prune azaleas before July 4 to prevent cutting off the next year’s buds. Remove 1/3 of the stems to the junction just before the heart of the plant. Remove the other stems back a foot (30 cm.), cutting to growth nodes.
In a couple of years, the plant should be fully recovered from such drastic pruning and ready to produce the deeper jewel tones of its youth.
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Created by an inventive Louisiana horticulturist, these season-defying plants burst with color nearly all year
Encore Azaleas brighten landscapes with vibrant colors in the spring, summer, and fall.
While each Southern season brings its own rich foliage, spring is when the region’s storied gardens truly shine, their soft pastels and vibrant greens painting the landscape. While dogwoods, zinnias, and wisteria certainly spark enchantment, Southerners have a soft spot for azaleas, the spring-blooming flowers known for candy-colored petals of pink, purple, and red. The striking blooms are synonymous with spring, creating a lush backdrop for the South’s most agreeable months. Like all good things, however, azalea season has always come to an end—until Encore Azalea came along, that is.
It all began in Folsom, Louisiana, a rural village north of New Orleans. Growing up in a farming family, Robert E. “Buddy” Lee was drawn to the natural world from a young age. “I’ve always been interested in plants,” he says. “I was collecting seedlings before I entered grade school, always asking questions.” The passion stayed with him—after working part-time in nurseries throughout high school and college, he eventually left a job in the medical field to pursue horticulture as a full-time career. By the early eighties, Lee had built a successful nursery in Independence, Louisiana, focused on the region’s native flora, and of course, azaleas.
The Autumn Monarch (left), Autumn Starburst (top), and Autumn Majesty varieties stand out among Encore Azaleas’s thirty-three rosy hues.
“I’ve always been fascinated by azaleas,” he says. “They seem to be the number one plant of the South.” It was in his own nursery that Lee began experimenting with plant breeding, envisioning a series of azaleas that would bloom for not one but multiple seasons. After much trial and error, it was a cross between traditional spring-blooming azaleas and a rare Taiwanese summer-blooming variety that gave rise to what are now known as Encore Azaleas: evergreen flowers that bloom in spring, summer, and fall. “When you cross plants, each seedling is unique,” Lee says. “That alone was rewarding to me—combining these genetics to create something beautiful and entirely new.”
Encore Azaleas can be planted in a variety of settings, including in outdoor planters and garden containers.
Today, Encore Azaleas are the best-selling plants of their kind. Each year, their dazzling cycle begins in spring, when the season’s first flowers appear. Come summer, the azalea’s “second act” begins as new buds start to bloom, resulting in full, bright flowers all through the fall. In addition to their rainbow of hues (thirty-three color options, to be exact), the flowers are more sun tolerant than other azalea varieties. Thriving equally in sunlight and partial shade, the blooms are easy to care for, meaning new and seasoned gardeners alike can find success. “They’re very forgiving,” Lee promises, “and they’ll last a long, long time if you take proper care from the beginning.” He advises planting them shallowly, incorporating acidic materials like pine bark mulch, and avoiding overfertilizing.
Wherever Encore Azaleas are planted, the goal of the company is not much different from Lee’s own: to leave the world a bit more beautiful than before. “I once heard someone say that you could have the biggest mansion or the tiniest shack, but when the azaleas are blooming, everything is just gorgeous,” he says.
Tips for Planting Encore Azaleas
—Choose a spot that offers light from direct sun or high filtered shade. Four to six hours of sun or filtered shade per day will encourage optimal blooms. Try to provide morning sun and afternoon shade protection if possible.
—Make sure your soil is well-turned and dig a hole as deep as the azalea’s root ball and twice as wide.
Encore Azaleas will thrive in either full sun or high filtered shade.
—Mix some organic material with soil and place a bit of the mixture in the hole.
—Remove the azalea from its container and loosen the root ball lightly with your fingers.
—When placing the plant in the prepared hole, make sure the top of the root ball is slightly above the soil level. Encore Azaleas will suffer if planted too deeply.
Remember to mulch around newly planted Encore Azaleas.
— Make sure your root ball is moist, then pull some soil around the plant, water thoroughly, and cover with mulch. When mulching, avoid covering the top of the root ball with mulch.
—Newly planted azaleas will require routine watering during the first year, but once established, they will not require frequent watering.
—Prune your Encore Azaleas immediately after their spring flowering.
The azalea is the number one must-have plant in the South.
Rhododendrons and azaleas are arguably the South's favorite shrubs. Many people think of them as entirely different plants, but they both belong to the genus Rhododendron, which comprises more than 800 species and 10,000 named selections. Even to the untrained eye, one difference between the two groups is obvious: rhododendrons generally have much larger leaves. From a technical standpoint, rhododendron flowers are bell shaped and have ten or more stamens, while azalea blooms are typically funnel shaped and have five stamens.
By making their choices carefully, gardeners in almost every part of the South can enjoy some of these plants, even if that means growing them in containers. Rhododendrons generally do better in the Upper and Middle South, though a number of selections thrive in the Lower South. Azaleas, however, are more accommodating with the necessary attention to soil, light, and proper selection, they can be grown throughout the South.
Rhododendrons and azaleas have much the same basic requirements for soil and water. They need acid, well-drained, organically enriched soil that should neither get too dry nor remain soggy. Planting in heavy clay is a no-no: root rot often ensues, indicated by yellowing, wilting foliage and collapse of the plant. Planting in limy, alkaline soil is another mistake lack of iron quickly results in chlorosis (yellow leaves with green veins). Alkaline soil has not, however, discouraged azalea lovers in Texas and Oklahoma. The recommended practice there is to build raised beds 15–18 in. deep and fill them with a half-and-half mixture of finely milled bark and coarse sphagnum peat moss (be sure to mix the two thoroughly with water before filling the beds). Irrigating with alkaline water will slowly raise the pH to keep it in the desired range of 5.0–6.0, prepare a mixture of 3 parts garden sulfur to 1 part iron sulfate, then apply it at the rate of 1 pound per 100 sq. ft. of garden bed. This should lower the pH by one point.
Plant azaleas and rhododendrons with the top of the root ball slightly above soil level. Don't cultivate around these plants, as they have shallow roots. Because they absorb water through their foliage, wet both the leaves and root zone when you water. Overhead watering with sprinklers works well, but to prevent fungal diseases do this in morning so that leaves dry by afternoon. Avoid drip irrigation―it doesn't wet the root system uniformly.
In spring, just after the blooms fade, apply mulch and fertilize with a controlled-release, acid-forming fertilizer such as cottonseed meal or commercial azalea/camellia food. Do not mulch in fall this will hold heat in the soil and delay the onset of dormancy, increasing the chances of winter damage. And don't fertilize before bloom―you'll encourage leafy growth at the wrong time.
The sun tolerance of azaleas and rhododendrons varies by species and selection. In general, most types prefer the partial sun or filtered shade beneath tall trees. The east and north sides of the house are better locations than the west and south. Too much sun bleaches or burns the leaves too little results in lanky plants that don't bloom.
Insects and diseases seldom bother healthy, vigorous plants. However, rhododendrons growing in heavy clay often fall victim to Phytophthora, a deadly soil-borne fungus that causes dieback. Azaleas growing in full sun are often plagued by sucking insects called lace bugs. For solutions to both problems, see the Southern Living Garden Problem Solver.
The rhododendrons listed here are all evergreen azalea species and hybrids may be evergreen or deciduous. Plant sizes vary somewhat within groups, but most individual plants are roughly equal in height and width.
Pruning rhododendrons is simple―just follow these general guidelines. Tip-pinch young plants to make them bushy prune older, leggy plants to restore shape by cutting back to a side branch, leaf whorl, or cluster of latent buds. Do any extensive pruning in late winter or early spring. Pruning at this time will sacrifice some flower buds, but the plant's energies will be diverted to latent growth buds, which will then be ready to push out their new growth early in the growing season. You can do some shaping while plants are in bloom use cut branches in arrangements. To prevent seed formation, which can reduce next year's bloom, clip or break off spent flower trusses, taking care not to damage growth buds at base of each truss.
Evergreen azaleas are dense, usually shapely plants heading back the occasional wayward branch restores symmetry. To keep bushes compact, tip-pinch frequently, starting after flowering ends and continuing until mid-June. Prune deciduous azaleas while they are dormant and leafless. You don't have to prune azaleas as carefully as you do rhododendrons―the leaves are fairly evenly spaced along the branches, with a bud at base of each leaf, so new growth will sprout from almost anywhere you cut (in either bare or leafy wood).
Most people know rhododendrons as big, leathery-leafed shrubs with rounded clusters ("trusses") of stunning white, pink, red, or purple blossoms. These are primarily hybrids of catawba rhododendron, R. catawbiense, which is native to the Appalachians. But there are also dwarfs just a few inches tall, giants that reach 40 ft. or even 80 ft. in their native Southeast Asia, and a host of species and hybrids of intermediate size. Hybrids with Asian parentage may display exotic colors of yellow, apricot, and salmon unfortunately, plants with these colors are often less tolerant of the South's summer heat.
The following sections place named selections in categories to help you decide whether they're suited to your garden and how to employ them.
Heat-tolerant hybrids. These are some of the selections that accept the long, hot summers of the Lower South: ‘A. Bedford', ‘Album Elegans', ‘Anah Kruschke', ‘Anna Rose Whitney', ‘Belle Heller', ‘Caroline', ‘Cheer', ‘Chionoides', ‘Cynthia', ‘English Roseum', ‘Fastuosum Flore Pleno', ‘Ginny Gee', ‘Holden', ‘Janet Blair', ‘Jean Marie de Montague', ‘Lee's Dark Purple', ‘Nova Zembla', ‘Purple Splendour', ‘Roseum Elegans', ‘Scintillation', ‘Trude Webster', ‘Vulcan'.
Cold-hardy hybrids. Most of the hybrids listed here are quite cold hardy. The following can take temperatures to at least –20°F: ‘Album Elegans', ‘America', ‘Boule de Neige', ‘Catawbiense Album', ‘Catawbiense Boursault', ‘English Roseum', ‘Nova Zembla', ‘PJM', ‘President Lincoln', ‘Ramapo', ‘Roseum Elegans'.
Vireyas for indoors and frost-free areas. The Vireya rhododendrons, from the tropics of Southeast Asia, manage nicely in frost-free and nearly frostless zones. They are also fine container plants (even indoors), so they can be grown in colder zones if brought inside for the winter. They need an especially fast-draining potting mix (many species are epiphytes in the wild) a combination of equal parts peat moss, ground bark, and perlite works well. Typically, plants flower on and off throughout the year rather than in one blooming season. They bear waxy-textured blossoms in exciting shades of yellow, gold, orange, vermilion, salmon, and pink, plus cream, white, and bicolors. Species, named hybrids, and unnamed seedlings are offered by some specialty growers.
Among the best ones you are likely to find are R. aurigeranum (a hybrid of R. brookeanum commonly listed as ‘Gracile'), R. javanicum, R. konori, R. laetum, R. lochae, R. macgregoriae, and the hybrids ‘George Budgen' (orange yellow), ‘Ne Plus Ultra' (a red-flowering hybrid between R. laetum and R. zoelleri), and ‘Taylori' (pink).
Low-growing rhododendrons. These selections grow to 3 ft. tall or less: ‘Blue Diamond', ‘Bow Bells', ‘Dora Amateis', ‘Elizabeth', ‘Ginny Gee', ‘Molly Ann', ‘Patty Bee', ‘Ramapo', ‘Sapphire', ‘Scarlet Wonder'.
Rhododendrons in Clay or Alkaline Soil? They don't like it. Planting in raised beds that are 1–2 ft. above the original soil level is the simplest way to give these plants the conditions they need. Liberally mix organic material into top foot of native soil, then fill bed above it with a mixture of 50 percent organic material, 30 percent soil, 20 percent builder's sand. This mixture will hold air and moisture while allowing excess water to drain.
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The rose I can see. The 'sucker' is from the root stock, which is grafted to the flower stock.
they don't change colors completely from one season to the next but can branch-sport with different colors or get flecks/stripes of darker colors in the individual flowers. gumpo white often has flowers with flecks and stripes of dark pink to red in them.
my 'george l. taber' occasionally throws out a solid purple-flowered branch. if i recall, that is where it originated -as a sport of purple formosa or similar.
of the encores, 'autumn twist' will occasionally have two different solid colors of flowers as well as those with flecks.
That 'sporting' is really common on the Geo. L.Taber - it was very common to find branches sporting solid purple blooms, or even some that were predominantly the normal pink with purple stripes, or one purple petal, etc. Mrs. G.G.Gerbering is, if I recall correctly, a white sport of GLT.
I've lost track of the historical info, but I was always under the impression that Formosa was a sport of Pride of Mobile(or maybe it was the other way around).
yes, i knew i had seen this question before on gardenweb and found an old post about the cultivars mentioned above.
mrs. g is a white sport of taber and taber is a sport of a purple, not unlike formosa, called 'omurasaki'.
the post is linked below.
interesting how this happens to give us some beautiful new varieties. one reference i read claims that the sporting is the result of bud damage on the original plant.
Here is a link that might be useful: azalea sports
The picture in that link looks exactly like my azalea, before and after.
Thanks for all the help. I think I'll just go out and get another white azalea, just for balance.
My azalea changed colour too, last year I had one white azalea and one purple azalea,this year the white one is wearing Pink. Last year the buds were white and the Blooms were also white. This year the buds started out a dark pink and as the blooms open they turn a lighter pink, and when they fully open they are a pale pink. it’ll be interesting to see if the purple one stays purple
We may have the same, Aututmn Twists. But some of the plants are mixes, and some are all purple. This might help explain. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejS3oYJapcg
I have one that is light pink with dark pink flowers mixed in this year. One flower got confused and is half and half!
The Blue Ridge Mountains, any time of the year are stunning and beautiful, but there is just something about Spring, and seeing the mountains come alive again after the dormant winter, that is well . just magical.
You can go pretty much anywhere in the Blue Ridge Mountains during Spring to see lots of beautiful Spring colors, but there are a few places that are exceptional.
We asked the more than 70,000 members of our Blue Ridge Mountain Life Facebook group, for their favorite places to visit in the Spring. Wow, did they ever deliver.
This article highlights 22 of top picks from our Blue Ridge Mountain Life Group for absolutely beautiful places for to visit in the Spring, in the Blue Ridge Mountains .
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Now where were we . Oh Yes! The Top 22 Absolutely Beautiful Places for Spring Blooms in the Blue Ridge Mountains!
Vibrant multi-colored and bi-colored blooms of white, pink, fuschia, and dark pink make this Azalea a true 'Conversation Piece'! The wonderfully unique 3.5" ruffled blooms smother the beautiful dark green foligae in late spring. For those who love Azaleas and plants with amazing color the Comversation Piece is a must have.
Use in groupings, flowering shrub borders, natural hedge, home foundation plantings, asian theme gardens, cottage gardens, woodland gardens, and just about anywhere in the landscape that gets morning or filtered sun.
Culture & Care Tips
Azaleas prefer a well draining, moist and acidic soil rich in organic matter. Prefers morning sun with afternoon shade.
Known as “The Royalty of the Garden,” azaleas have long been adored for their brightly colored flowers and outstanding form and foliage. Here are a few tips for growing azaleas in your garden!
The best time to plant azaleas is in late spring or early fall. Evergreen azaleas do well in partial shade with some wind protection. Deciduous varieties flower more profusely in full sun.
With thousands of varieties, there are azaleas for just about every landscape situation:
While most azaleas flower in spring, there are varieties that extend the season:
“The Royalty of the Garden” seems to be a fitting name for this beautiful and majestic plant, but we’ve got a hunch that once your garden is filled with the colors and fragrance of beautiful blooming azaleas, you’ll probably think that it’s you who’s getting the royal treatment.
See our Rhododendron and Azalea Plant Guide for more information on how to plant and care for these gorgeous shrubs.