All about azaleas

Minnesota Hardy is a publication from the University of Minnesota Extension service that outlines several different kinds of plant material that have been raised and/or researched for its Minnesota hardiness abilities. The first plant group that I will be discussing with you is azaleas.

There are many of us who are familiar with the Lights series of azaleas. These bring some wonderful, bright color to our early spring landscape and have become “world-renowned for their varied colors and incredible flower bud hardiness.” It is hard to believe, but the first crosses made in Minnesota were in 1957 with the very first plant material becoming available in 1978. Since this time, there have been at least 12 new varieties released to the public for our own gardens.

Of course, there is always some tweaking to do and the U of M is on the job, looking at improving foliage quality and trying to improve on the powdery mildew resistance of the plants. Researchers are working on 41 different kinds of plant material to select plants that have more resistance to powdery mildew or for tolerance of powdery mildew. Breeders now look at color, attractive foliage for after the plants flowering time and also for fall foliage coloring, flower fragrance and longer bloom times.

They are also looking at flower bloom times that will carry on into late June and maybe even July. Rhododendron is the genus name for both rhododendron and azaleas. Not sure of the difference? Rhododendrons will keep their foliage during the winter while azaleas, most typically will not. There are many different types of azaleas for us to choose from that are on the market right now.

They include: Apricot sunrise, which is a late flowering, 4-foot, light orange-colored blooming plant; Candy Lights, which is a 6-foot, light pink very fragrant flowering plant; golden Lights, which is about 6 feet in height, gold colored flowering, very fragrant and pretty well tolerant of powdery mildew type of plant; Lemon Lights is a lemon-colored, flowering plant that grows about 5 feet and is more upright then bushy; Lilac Lights grows to be about 5 feet with pinkish purple colored flowers; Mandarin Lights is an orange-colored, 6-foot, extremely hardy plant (this one is good if you are doubting that you will have difficulty keeping an azalea alive); Northern Hi-Lights is creamy white with yellow flowers and grows about 6 feet tall; Northern Lights is a pink flowering plant, grows to about 7 feet tall and is the original azalea made for Minnesota; Orchids lights is also very hardy and compact, growing only 3 feet tall; Rosy Lights is a deep rosy pink and very hardy; Spicy lights is a salmon orange-colored flowering plant that is early flowering and grows about 6 feet tall; Tri Lights is soft pink, to deep rose buds and a touch of yellow, growing to about 5 feet tall; White Lights has a touch of yellow to the flowers and has a touch of yellow coloring as well, growing to a height of about 6 feet tall.

These plants that were once thought as a southern growing only plant can be grown in Minnesota providing you utilize the research from the U of M. Your new azalea bed will be very successful and very beautiful!

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