An azalea is a plant in the Rhododendron genus. Rhododendrons and azaleas are very similar, and sometimes the line between the two blurs, but as a general rule, azaleas are smaller, with flowers which tend to be fragrant. Another key different between azaleas and other plants which share their genus is that the azalea has deciduous leaves, while other rhododendrons or “rhodies” are evergreen. Even with these distinctions, however, people will occasionally disagree on what is an azalea and what is a rhododendron.
Azaleas have funnel-shaped flowers which grow one to a stem, in colors which can include white, yellow, orange, red, purple, and pink, among others. The plants come into bloom in the spring, and they are covered in stems, so the whole plant can become a solid mass of color. Blooming usually lasts around two months, after which the flowers will drop off, and the foliage will persist for several more months before dropping in the fall.
Some azalea cultivars are dwarf varieties, ideal for things like edging flower beds and growing in pots, while others can grow quite large if they are given the space to do so. All prefer acidic, slightly damp soil, and they need to be kept out of the wind and in partial shade. Shade is key during the heat of the day, when the plants are very vulnerable to damage.
These plants are typically grown from cuttings, because growing from seed can be unreliable and painstaking. Many garden supply stores carry young azalea plants suitable for transplanting, and it is also possible to give potted azaleas as gifts to gardeners who can later transplant them. These plants will grow in USDA zones four through nine, although they can have a tough time in the upper end of this range.
An azalea can grow for fifty years or more, so it pays to think ahead when planting it to ensure that the placement is ideal. Azaleas can be planted in the spring before their blooming period, or in the fall. The soil should be prepared by being mixed with compost, peat, and a little bit of sand, and the roots of the plant should be broken up before planting to make sure that they take hold in the new soil. In the winter, the roots should be mulched to prevent damage.
Some examples of azalea cultivars include: flame azaleas, fragrant whites, pinxter flower, and swamp honeysuckle.