How Encore™ azaleas are different
The azalea is one of the most beautiful blooming shrubs in the garden. They welcome spring covered in so many blooms they look like giant balls of color. Southern gardeners have cherished them for years and gardeners in more northern climates look on with envy each spring. Most azaleas put on their spring show and once it is over, become normal shrubs with lovely green leaves. There are a few species that tend to bloom in the fall and that's where breeder Robert C. 'Buddy' Lee has concentrated his efforts for the last few decades. He bred these fall bloomers to the plants with earlier flowering cycles and the result is a plant that repeats it's show, so he dubbed these new azaleas Encore™. Another plus resulting from this experiment is that many of the Encore™ azaleas are hardier in areas a bit further north than their normal, spring-blooming counterparts. Some even do well as far north as USDA Zone 6a, however be sure and check the requirements of the ones you like to make sure that they will survive your winters as some are only hardy through Zone 7a. There are even reports that gardeners in Zone 5 have successfully grown Encores™, however they plant them in locations sheltered from harsh winter winds and often cover them during periods of extreme cold. There are over 30 cultivars now with a wide range of colors, sizes and hardiness, so there's sure to be one that fits your garden.
Planting Encore™ azaleas
Encore™ azaleas like conditions ranging from sun to partial shade, however, they do best in the southern parts of their range (up to 10b) if they are sheltered from the heat of afternoon sun. As long as they receive about 6 hours of sun each day, they will bloom and thrive. Just like their spring-blooming cousins, Encore™ azaleas enjoy well-drained, acid soil and plenty of moisture. Azaleas benefit from a good layer of mulch and traditionally pine straw is used because of its acid content. Space Encore azaleas about as far apart as their full size lists on the tag. If the tag indicates they grow to three feet tall, then measure three feet from the center of one shrub to the center of the next and your plants should fill in to make a lovely continuous border. When planting Encores™, dig a generous hole and backfill with some organic compost. Plant the shrub so that the rootball is even with, or slightly above the soil line. Azaleas do not like to be planted very deep. If you have heavy clay soil, amend it with compost, pine bark and a bit of sand to help aerate it and promote drainage. Be sure to water deeply every few days their first year to promote a deep and healthy root system and in the following years water as weather conditions indicate. Fertilize each spring with a good quality azalea food and that should be all the plants need. Fertilizing in the autumn promotes tender growth that may not make it through the winter. Pruning is not really necessary except to shape the plants if there are straggling branches. Do so in the early summer just after they have finished blooming so that you do not remove the fall flower buds that form shortly after. I've had my Encores™ about 4 years now and I've only clipped a branch here and there that is in the way.
Lots of choices with Encore™ azaleas
With so many cultivars available now, there's an Encore™ azalea that should fit most any garden. Colors range from nearly pure white to flaming red with corals, pinks and purples in between. I have the lovely Autumn Twist™. As the name suggests, there are two types of flowers on the same plant. Some of the blooms are a pretty bicolor, blooming pink with purple stripes and some of the blooms are a solid deep pink. The header image is my Autumn Twist™. It is one of the hardier Encores™ that does well in the northern end of its range and can eventually reach about 4.5 feet tall and wide, however mine seem to be holding at the three foot height as of now.
Encore™ azaleas are widely available
Encore™ azaleas are now widely available at many hometown nurseries and big box stores, so chances are they have stocked the cultivars that will grow best in your area. The price is attractive as well. I paid about $30 for well branched healthy plants bearing the tag of a well-known plant supplier at my local nursery and mine came with a 1 year guarantee from my nursery. The plants were bushy and when I tipped them out of the containers the roots were healthy and not pot-bound. I planted them according to directions and they never missed a beat. They brighten up my east-facing front walkway and I get comments all the time from visitors in the fall. Encores™ are an excellent landscape choice if you have the climate and conditions where they can thrive.