Story by L. Beth Bonifant | Reprinted from Spring 2013
Spring wouldn’t be the some in Southern Maryland without landscapes filled with the bountiful blooms from azaleas and rhododendrons. Both create a spectacular sight when planted in quantities. They come in on incredible variety of colors, sizes and sun requirements, and ore easy to grow in our region.
Most of us have two very distinct ideas about the difference between an azalea and a rhododendron. Though we may be on to something, botanical taxonomists have put both in the same genus, Rhododendron. What are commonly referred to as rhododendrons are large, showy shrubs with leathery, evergreen leaves. Azaleas can be either evergreen or deciduous. And everything about rhododendrons tends to be bigger than the azalea – their size, foliage and flowers.
Both of these shrubs share the same cultural requirements, although many azaleas are better able to tolerate sun. Another consideration when planting is properly drained and organically amended soil. That means yes, they love moisture, but it better not stay wet there! Mix pine bark mulch (ask for “Pine Fines” but literally any pine product will do) together with the excavated soil, then backfill a little, place the shrub at somewhat of an elevation in the hole, and push the remaining improved soil up to and around the root ball. Firm the soil, water and voila! C’est tres magnifique!
Azaleas. Bravo! Or should I say Encore? If you want to plant something this spring that will have you shouting praises and asking for more then you should try Encore azaleas. They bloom in the spring, but what doesn’t? (Lots of things, but I’m trying to make a point here.) Then they bloom in the fall. You probably knew that, but did you know some of them bloom continuously? In our area of Zone 7 we can enjoy repeat or even relentless flowers from a select group of these shrubs throughout three seasons.
I planted the w hite Autumn Moonlight last spring around a patio. I like white there because it contrasts so beautifully with the natural gray and brown tones of the stone, and as the light fades in the evenings the white flowers maintain visibility. I kept thinking I was going to miss those flowers when they stopped blooming, but it was Christmas by then and I hardly had time to notice.
I thought it was just me and my incredible green thumb. But after talking to Eric, a buyer and yard manager at Wentworth Nursery in Charlotte Hall, I learned it is typical of this azalea. Another option, Autumn Empress, has a medium-pink bloom and the same energetic profile. Encore azaleas come in sever al different sizes, but all are either small or medium at maturity. The tallest can grow to five feet, so locate accordingly. Keep in mind the Encore requires a minimum of six hours of sunlight for best bloom production.
Rhododendrons. There are several rhododendrons readily available here in Southern Maryland that have been termed “Ironclads.” These plants inherited their reputation from hybrids planted in the 1900s at the Arboretum in Boston, Mass., that survived many winters successfully. “Ironclad” is similar to the term “hardy,” which we are more familiar with these days. It simply means they are of a “good constitution,” as they say in England. The Ironclads include P.J.M., which is deer-resistant and extremely hardy with early, bright lavender-pink flowers and small leaves; English Roseum, in lilac rose with orange blotch, growing to six feet in height; and Nova Zembla, with an extremely showy red display.
I’ll always have a special place in my heart for rhododendrons. When I was an adolescent working for the family business, my grandfather entered the store one day. He presented me with a beautiful bract of what was probably English Roseum from my grandparents’ yard. To me it was a floral display of affection that spoke louder than words. As the poet Henry David Thoreau wrote: “Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” Plant your rhododendrons this spring and you can create a sweet remembrance too!
Azaleas and rhododendrons can be purchased from The Greenery, TheGreeneryNursery.net, and Wentworth Nursery, WentworthNursery com.