(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on May 28, 2008. The author passed away in late 2010, so there will not be any responses to any questions or comments posted to the article.)
Warm Springtime breezes begin to blow; Spring talks to the Oklahoma sun. Winter is neither totally gone nor has Spring fully arrived. Tulsa gardens then come alive with unbelievable displays of gorgeous colors and frilly delicate blooms covering shrubs that seemed dead only weeks before. Azaleas are blooming.
Azaleas are members of the Family: Ericaceae and the Genus: Rhododendron, although they were once considered a seperate genus. Although they can grow 4-6 ft. (1.2-1.8 m) they can be maintained as a much smaller shrub. They typically grow well between Zones 6a and 9b according to the DavesGarden Plant files. Caution: Azaleas are poisonous and should NOT be planted within the reach of horses or where honey is collected from bees. Also according to DavesGarden Plant Files, Azaleas enjoy a acidic soil ranging from Soil pH requirements:
4.6 to 5.0 (highly acidic)
5.1 to 5.5 (strongly acidic)
5.6 to 6.0 (acidic)
6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)
Azaleas like moderate to almost full sun and like water. They do not, however, like to stand in water for long periods of time. In Oklahoma, mulch is usually necessary to keep the bushes alive during the hot, dry summer months. The shrubs need about 3 hours of sun a day to produce beautiful flowers. I killed a couple of Azaleas by planting them Solar South without shade. Some varities are Deciduous while others are Evergreen. Regardless, both varities appear to be simply green boring shrubs until Spring.
An Azalea shrub needs some care but is not high maintenance; some shrubs need a slight pruning each year. However, do NOT prune your Azaleas after Mid Summer or even earlier in some areas. You may be cutting off next Spring's blooms! If you like cut flowers, prune your shrubs while in bloom; enjoy the flowers and maintain your shrub. The blooms are so beautiful, however, that the minimal care needed is well worth the result. Azaleas come in an assortment of pastel colors and some bright colors. Many states, including Alabama, California, North and South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, and Texas enjoy Azalea festivals throughout the year. Of course, Oklahoma also has a large Azalea festival in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Washington, DC also enjoys the beauty of Azaleas in the U.S. National Arboretum (located in the Northeast section of D.C.).
Azaleas have been grown for hundreds of years so there are thousands of different plants which include variations in blooms, shapes, sizes and colors. Some Azaleas do not set seed, but even if they do, the seed probably will not set true. The best propagation method is from softwood cuttings but many of the cultivars are protected by copyrights so they should not be propagated this way. Azalea bushes have been grown as Bonsai plants, although it seems a shame to minimize their beauty.
The green shrub may be boring but there is nothing boring about their Springtime show of masses of blooms. May you enjoy the Azaleas of yesterday, today and tomorrow. May our lives always be blessed by the beauty of this sweet Shrub.
Note: All of these pictures are from 2008 Spring in Tulsa, Oklahoma (although not from my garden). These are all taken by me, April Campbell and are all Copyright protected.