Would you believe there are 1000 types and 800 species of azaleas? It’s true and a bit overwhelming! Breaking it down into something a bit more comprehensible, all types are classified as an azalea or rhododendron. While azaleas and rhododendrons are related, all azaleas belong to the rhododendron genus, but not all rhododendrons are azaleas. That being said, if you are searching for azaleas by the plant name, you may also see the word, "Rhododendron” on the name tag. To separate the two, Rhododendrons have larger leaves, bell shaped flowers and ten or more stamens. They grow best in the upper and middle south. While azaleas have funnel shaped flowers, five stamens and grow heartily most anywhere in the southern regions.
Describing every type and variety of azalea, would turn this into a book rather than an article. So, to get familiar with this beautiful spring and summer showstopper, they can be put into four basic categories.
1. Species Azalea
Species azaleas consist of those that interbreed when isolated in nature. When planted, the seed of a species azalea will grow into the same plant as the parent; they grow from true seeds. Species azaleas are native to the United States.
2. Hybrid Azalea
A hybrid azalea crosses between different types or other hybrids. In other words, where species azaleas grow from seeds, the only way to reproduce a hybrid is from cuttings.
3. Deciduous Azalea
All azaleas native of North America are deciduous, which means they lose their leaves in the fall. They are more tolerant of winter. They are late flowering which will extend the beauty of spring. Many have foliage in shades of red, orange and yellow in the fall, before losing their leaves. The deciduous varieties normally grow upright and tend to be taller than evergreen azaleas. Bloom colors are white, pink, purple, red, orange or yellow.
4. Evergreen Azalea
Evergreen azaleas are native to Japan. The evergreen azalea retains foliage throughout the fall and winter months. The leaves of the evergreens are generally smaller than 2 inches. The main use of evergreen azaleas is in landscaping. Bloom colors include white, pink, purple, red and orange.
Just as it is with the main food groups, the choices are endless and are ultimately preference. Azaleas are much the same although not edible! Where you live may also come into play regarding extreme temperatures, soil types etc. Your decisions may include size, when they bloom and of course colors.
Azaleas are often grouped as to whether they bloom early, mid-season or late. Early flowering types generally bloom from mid-February through March, mid-season types bloom in late April and May, and late-flowering types bloom from June through October. As far as popularity, Encore is the best-selling azalea. The reason is in the name and due to its “encore” performances in the spring, summer and fall. Encore Azaleas have 31 varieties of deep, colorful bloom colors and sizes to choose from. They are hardy, low maintenance, sun and cold tolerant as well as giving your landscape a continuous show of blooms throughout three seasons.
The leaves, size and shape of azaleas vary greatly. The leaf sizes can be from 1/4-inch-long to more than 6 inches. Deciduous azaleas usually have large leaves, while the leaves of the evergreens are generally smaller than 2 inches.
Azaleas have the same basic requirements for soil and water. They need acidic, well-drained, organically enriched soil that should be neither too dry nor soggy. They love to absorb water through their foliage, so wet both the leaves and roots when you water.
For most, it comes down to flower type that makes the final decision. Azaleas come in a huge range of sizes, colors and blooming times to meet almost every landscaping need or personal taste.
Author Pam Tyson Yasinski - Published 10-1-2019