Encore, Encore! Celebrating the hybrid Encore azalea

-A A +A
By Master Gardener, Brunswick County Extension

Since 1998, 23 Encore azalea selections have been released to the public and have become one of the nursery world’s favorite plants to applaud. The Encore extends the usual azalea blooming season into the fall.
The new hybrids provide the traditional spring display during March and April, but they also bloom again in the fall.
Robert E. “Buddy” Lee is the breeder and developer of Encore azaleas. He began Encore development as an azalea breeding program in the early 1980s incorporating fall blooming characteristics into a winter-hardy, evergreen azalea.
Because different parents were used for the various cultivars now commercially available, there is still some uncertainty about their actual winter hardiness, but most do well in Zone 7 and southwards.
Of the many Encore selections, Autumn Amethyst often outperforms its relatives. It is slightly wider than tall, with a final height usually reaching around 4-5 feet. Autumn Amethyst produces single, dark pinkish-purple blooms about two-inches across.
Encore azaleas are available in an array of colors, growth forms and bloom characteristics. The Encore palette of colors boasts pure white to coral. To describe a few: soft coral-pink, hot pink, fuschia, rose-pink, deep orange-red, salmon-orange, rich purple, electric orange, ruby-red, amethyst-purple, bright pink and medium pink.
The bloom characteristics may be single, semi-double, double, flecked, freckled and some blooms ruffle-edged. Although Encore azaleas bloom in the spring and fall, they rarely seem to be covered with the same astounding show of flowers that you would expect to see from the traditional spring-only bloomers.
Encore azaleas have the same cultural requirements as traditional azaleas. Ideally, they should have a pH between 5.0 and 5.5, well-drained organic soil, and moderate irrigation during the summer months (azaleas do not like “wet feet”).
A mulch of pine bark, pine needles or wood chips helps hold moisture, keep weeds down and levels natural changes in the soil temperature. The morning sun and some afternoon shade likely promote the best blooms, especially in the warmer areas of southeast. If pruning is needed, trim or shape the plants early in the spring just after the blooms fade.
The most common cause for failure of any azalea plant is due to planting it too deep—the top of the root ball should rest a little above ground level.
The fall flowering habit came from Rhododendron oldhamii Forth of July, a cultivar selected from seed collected in 1968 at 2,500 feet up Taiwan’s Mt. Tai Tun.
The female parent used to create Autumn Amethyst was a winter hardy hybrid called “Karens,” a cross between “Hinodegiri,” the old Kurume variety, and R. yedoensis var. poukhanense, the Korean azalea. Lee selected the seedling that was to be named Autumn Amethyst in 1986, but did not receive the plant patent until 1998.
Azaleas are in the genus Rhododendron, and have been hybridized for hundreds of years. More than 10,000 azaleas have been registered or named, evergreen and deciduous, although far fewer are readily available on the commercial market. This means azaleas provide plant habits, sizes, colors, and bloom times to meet almost every landscape and personal preference. New varieties continue to add to the list each year.
For more information about the plants listed above and a more complete itemizing of more named Encore shrub roses, send you gardening questions or comments to: Brunswick County Master Gardener Column, P.O. Box 109, Bolivia, NC 28422, or call 253-2610.
Enclose a self-addressed, stamped, envelope if requesting information or a reply. Answers may be printed in this column. Visit the Brunswick County Center of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service Web Site at www.ces.ncsu.ecu/brunswick/ or access the site through the Brunswick County Government Online Web site at www.brunsco.net.