Burke’s Backyard Best Azaleas

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There are many different types of azaleas and most people have had one that looked beautiful but eventually died, usually because it was not a hardy variety.  Some azaleas are very difficult to grow and others are easy so it is very important to select your azalea carefully.

1. Hardy, Old-fashioned, tall-growing azaleas.  These are as hardy as Australian native plants and as quick growing.  They are suitable for growing along roads, and similar areas, even in high pollution areas.

  • ‘Alba Magna’ – white, green throat – grows to 2m (6 ½ ‘)
  • ‘Alphonse Anderson’ – pink edged white, rosy blotch – grows to 2 metres
  • ‘Magnifica’ – purple – grows to  2 metres
  • ‘Phoenicea’ – deep mauve – grows to 2metres
  • ‘Splendens’ – rosy salmon pink – grows to 3m (10’) or more
  • ‘Maves’ – rich red – grows to 2m; not widely available
  • ‘Schryderii’ – white flowers with mauve throat – somewhat scruffy bush – grows to 1-2m (3 ¼ – 6 ½ ‘)

2. Smaller Growing Azaleas, not as hardy as the first group but still very good performers in the ground.  Dig plenty of compost into the soil prior to planting.

  • Reds:  ‘Advent Bells’, ‘Red Poppy’, ‘Avenir’, ‘Red Wing’
  • Whites:  ‘White Crane’, ‘White Prince’ (deep pink throat), ‘Snow Prince’
  • Pinks:  ‘Madame Auguste Haerens’ (multi-coloured), ‘Dancer’, ‘Rose Queen’, ‘Sweet Nellie’, ‘Beverley Haerens’ (very light pink to a white), ‘Pink Dream’, ‘My Fair Lady’, ‘Balsaminaeflorum’
  • Mauves:  ‘Bonnie McKee’, ‘James Belton’, ‘Phil Sherringham’, ‘Rosa Belton’
  • Purples:  ‘Happy Days’, ‘Violacea’

3. Azaleas which are difficult to grow in many areas of Australia.  The further north, the more difficult they are to grow.  They are, however, reasonably good in pots.

  • ‘Silver Anniversary’ – silvery pink
  • ‘Comptesse de Kerchove’ – light salmon, white edges
  • ‘Southern Aurora’ white with border of pink/red
  • ‘Elsa Karga’ – the best red-coloured azalea
  • ‘Red Ruffles’ – salmon red, ruffled petals.
  • ‘Pink Ruffles’ – two tone pink, white edge, ruffled petals
  • ‘Leopold Astrid’ – white with pink edge
  • ‘Searchlight’ – white

4. Another group is Kurumes, which are generally 1-1.5m (3 ¼ to 5’) tall and almost as wide.  Virtually all Kurumes are easy to grow in the ground:

  • ‘Kirin’ – bright silvery-pink rose
  • ‘Christmas Cheer’ – deep pink
  • ‘Princess Maude’ – pink
  • ‘Kasane Kagaribi ‘– salmon pink
  • ‘Tancho ‘– pink, edged with rose
  • ‘Glowing Embers’ – orange/red
  • ‘Osaraku’ – white, edged with lavender
  • ‘Fred Colbert’ – bright red
  • ‘Fairy Bells’ – pale pink, flecked red

For those people who live in cooler areas of Australia, particularly in the southern areas, there are deciduous azaleas, for example, Mollis azaleas.  They come in a wide range of flower colours including yellow, apricot and orange/red.  They do not grow well in middle to north Australia.

Care & Drainage

Azaleas insist on a well-drained, airy soil that is regularly watered.  They demand a surface mulch (leaves, pinebark, compost) for peak performance and appreciate annual fertilising with Osmocote or cow manure.

From October to about April, you may need to spray with Confidor to control azalea lace bug and red spider, both of which cause the leaves to discolour to a silver or bronze tone.  The flowers on most varieties are inclined to rot during humid periods – this disease is called petal blight.  No spray will totally control this rot, but some success may be obtained by using Mancozeb Plus.

Drainage is at its very worse during winter.  All too often drainage problems are caused y garden beds damming the natural runoff of water or by depressions being created at the time the house site was excavated.  When it next rains, dress appropriately, take an umbrella and venture out into the garden.  By standing in the rain you should be able to see where the water flows and where it is impeded.  Place a marker on these positions and change the surface contours later on.  If all else fails, dig a trench and install plastic agricultural pipe in a gravel bed leading water away from moist areas.