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More re-blooming azalea varieties

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By Al Hight, Brunswick County Extension

We have discussed at length all 24 varieties of Encore Azalea that were developed by Mr. Buddy Lee and marketed by Flowerwood Nursery in Alabama. We all have our favorites but, whichever one you choose, this is one of the great plant marketing success stories of all time.

Now we have another group of multi-season interest azaleas finding its way into your local retail nursery known as the Debut Re-Blooming series. Right now there are four varieties available—lilac, pink, white and red. The good folks behind this introduction at Greenleaf Nursery say there will be more selections to come in 2011.

Bob and Lisa Head of Head’s Select Nursery in Seneca, S.C., teamed up with Greenleaf to make these azaleas available to gardeners. The idea according to Bob was to have more compact plants that bloom spring, summer and fall to fit the smaller garden where space is limited and every plant has to be special. 

The sales literature touts better cold hardiness and large flowers in distinctive colors. I haven’t been playing with them long enough to determine their cold hardiness, but the flowers and foliage are excellent.

We added them to the garden last summer right in the middle of the heat wave. Luckily, they had low-volume (drip) irrigation, but I still wondered how they would fare. All twelve plants (three of each variety) have lived and thrived. They have been blooming at least sporadically since August and are still showy now. The foliage continues to look vibrant and healthy seemingly unaffected by the heat and humidity of a southeastern North Carolina summer.  The lilac-colored selection seems to be a bit more vigorous and will probably be a larger plant. The pink variety is almost a true double. 

The “red” is actually dark pink but is large and showy. It reminds me of another popular South Carolina selection called Red Slipper. The Debut Re-Blooming white is fairly self-cleaning avoiding the plight of many white azaleas that leave spent blooms hanging from the leaves.

While it’s still a little early to tell, I imagine these azaleas—even as wonderful as they are—are still azaleas. Improving the soil with lots of organic matter is essential as well as providing perfect drainage. Smaller azaleas with dense foliage tend to be less attractive to lacebugs, so I doubt you’ll be overly troubled with them. 

If you happen to be in the Wilmington area, stop by the Arboretum at 6206 Oleander Drive. These azaleas are planted in the bed behind the auditorium toward the overflow parking lot.

In that same overflow parking lot are all 24 varieties of Encore azalea. You can judge them all for yourself.