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Alabama Treasures: Native Azaleas

Alabama Treasures: Native Azaleas

AUBURN, Alabama —Native azaleas are a favorite flowering shrub in Alabama. With many colors and their adaptability to a wide range of climates, they are a popular choice.

“With colors ranging from yellow to orange and orange-red flowers, native azaleas are among the most beautiful of Alabama’s indigenous flowering shrubs,” said Roosevelt Robinson, a regional Alabama Extension agent. “There are numerous native azalea species in Alabama. The Florida Flame, Plum Leaf and Sweet are a few examples.”

Native Azalea Species

There are many different species that are native to the Southeast. Landscapers and Alabamians can choose based on the color of the bloom and on the location they will live in.

  • Piedmont Azalea (Rhododendron canescens): These azaleas are the first to bloom in the spring. They have a fragrant, pink bloom.
  • Florida Azalea (R. austrinum): This species is native to north Florida. With yellow and orange blooms, these natives can grow  10 feet tall. They usually bloom in early April.
  • Oconee Azalea (R. speciosum): These Georgia natives have non-fragrant red and orange blooms. Bloom time is around the beginning of April.
  • Alabama Azalea (R. alabamense): The Alabama Azalea typically blooms in April. This species has a white bloom and can grow to be 8 feet tall.
  • Pinxterbloom Azalea (R. nudiflorum): Native to north Alabama, this species features white, pink or violet blooms. It can grow up to 6 feet tall and blooms in April. native azaleas
  • Swamp Azalea (R. viscosum):  Blooming in May or June, this native  features fragrant, white flowers and can grow to be 5 feet tall.
  • Flame Azalea (R. calendulaceum): The Flame Azalea features non-fragrant flower. The flowers are large and can be yellow, orange or red. This species blooms in late May and June, and they can grow to be 15 feet tall.
  • Sweet Azalea (R. arborescens): This azalea species is native to the Blue Ridge Mountains area. It features white, fragrant flowers and can grow to be 10 feet tall. It typically blooms in late May and June.
  • Plumleaf Azalea (R. prunifolium): These azaleas are found at Callaway Gardens and typically only grow within 100 miles of Callaway Gardens. They have non-fragrant, orange and red blooms. They can grow to be 20 feet tall and typically bloom from July to August.

Native Azaleas and Their Characteristics

Azaleas have a wide variety of colors and growth heights.

Azaleas require an acid soil pH to grow properly. Check the soil pH of your site before you buy azaleas. If the pH is above 6.5 you can expect to spend additional money and effort to maintain a pH in the proper range for plant growth. It may be to your advantage to consider other kinds of landscape plants for that site.

Azaleas species can withstand freezing temperatures. However, a late frost, like one Alabamians experienced this year, can damage azaleas.

“Although azaleas are able to withstand freezing temperatures, an unexpected frost late in spring, after blooms form, can damage azalea bushes,” said Robinson. “Freezing temperatures and temperature fluctuations stress the plants, causing their bark to split or their leaves to curl. Due to having a shallow root systems, frozen soil can injure azalea roots if they are not protected.”

Native Azaleas

Photo: Rachael Barnes

When choosing azaleas, it is important to select a type that is suitable for your climate. Alabamians should also consider their landscaping, soil preparation, watering and fertilizing needs, pruning and insects and disease control.

“I believe it’s more important to select a variety that is most suitable for your climate (heat tolerance and cold hardiness) and landscape,” said Robinson.

For more information on growing native azaleas as well as azalea hybrids, check out Azaleas from Alabama Extension.

About Rachael Barnes