If you’ve ever seen an azalea bursting in full bloom, you will understand why so many people are in love with this flower. Without a doubt one of the most beautiful garden shrubs in the world, the astonishing azaleas create a gorgeous landscape that will transform your garden into a fairy tale background.
Azaleas are often mistaken for rhododendrons, and they are a bit notorious as finicky flowers to grow. In fact, they are quite easy to deal with once you’ve done a bit of research and understand their basic needs.
As a result, we have prepared a guide on how to grow azaleas that will tell you everything you need to know. How to plant them from seed, how to take care of them, and which types of azaleas are best. Let’s get started!
Azalea Flower Card
Origin: Japan, Korea, China, North America, Eastern Europe
Common name: Azaleas
Scientific name: Rhododendron
Rank / Species: Genus
Height: 2-3 feet to 20 feet
Blooms: The blooms depend on the type of azalea but on average, azaleas produce blooms that are 2” in diameter.
Colors: Azaleas come in all colors, including pink, white, orange, yellow, and purple.
Foliage: Some types of azaleas have colorful foliage, especially in winter.
Note – The information above is meant to represent average flowers. There are more than 10,000 types of azaleas in the world. Therefore, the flower card speaks of average azaleas.
Where Do Azaleas Come From?
Believe it or not azaleas are some of the oldest flowers in recorded history. They are part of a group of plants called the Ericaceae family which dates as back as 70 million years ago.
It’s important to mention here that, since there are so many different types of azaleas in the world, they have different origins. Most blooms that we know and love today come from a shrub in Asia. To be more precise, Buddhist monks cultivated them in their monasteries.
In time, seeds made their way from the monasteries through the shores of the Black Sea all the way to England. In this way, they became the ancestors of many of the azalea hybrids that we still grow today in our gardens.
Azaleas have been mentioned all throughout history. They are the national flower of Nepal, but they also appear in medical texts from ancient China.
The Dutch record them as early as 1680 in their Japanese form, but these lovelies also made their way from England to America in the 1800s. South Carolina was the first state to grow them.
How to Grow Azalea
The number one thing you need to know before you can even consider growing azaleas is this. They are not difficult to deal with, but they will require special conditions when it comes to the type of soil, the amount of water and sunlight they need.
That being said, here is a guide that will get your started on your journey to a garden full of gorgeous azaleas.
Growing Azaleas from Seed
Let’s start with three tips that will come in handy before you start the actual process:
- Only buy high-quality seeds – Find a reputable source that you can trust. If the seeds are not available where you live, buy them online from an official seller.
- Only use distilled water – Do not use tap water or rainwater for your azaleas. Buy as much distilled water as you can. Baby azaleas are very sensitive and regular water is far too alkaline for them.
- Be patient! – After planting azaleas from seed, it will take about three to four years until they start to bloom. This means that, when it comes to azaleas, patience is key!
Here are the steps you will have to follow if you want to plant azaleas from seed.
- Create a seed starting container by cutting off the top part of a bottle. Wash it using hot water and soap and dry it very well to prevent mold. Make a few holes in the bottom for the water to drain through. Using a permanent marker, write the date on each container.
- Create a potting medium. Use equal parts sand that you have previously washed, peat moss, and Perlite. Do not use sand that you have taken from the outside, like your garden or a beach. This is not sand meant for planting seeds. Buy some sand that is meant for potting.
- Fill your containers halfway through.
- Using your distilled water, moisten the potting medium until you can see water coming out of the holes in the bottom of the container.
- Spread a thin layer of milled sphagnum that should be approximately 1/8 inch over your medium. Moisten it as well by spraying it with distilled water.
- Spread your azalea seeds over this mixture. Allow as much space between the seeds as you possibly can. They do not like to be crowded.
- Spray the seeds with some diluted fertilizer. They will feed on it for the next few months.
- Seal your container using a plastic bag. This will ensure the flowers get all the humidity they need.
- Set a lighting fixture with a small light bulb on top of your newly planted azalea seeds. A desk lamp should do the trick just fine, if you have one. You must leave the lights on at all times. If that is not possible, at least allow the azaleas 18 hours of light every day.
If all goes well, the seeds should germinate in approximately three weeks. Good luck, gardeners!
Best Azalea Seeds
Now that you know how to grow azaleas from seed, let’s take a look at some of the seeds that you can buy for your own garden.
- Azalea Orange Delight – it produces gigantic orange flowers that look spectacular and it thrives in colder climates. What more could you want?
- Azalea Alba Magnifica – as the name suggests, this variety produces magnificent white flowers that come out in late spring. The shrub is evergreen, so you can enjoy it all year round.
- Azalea Purpurea – also known as Azalea Shiraz, this outstanding variety has burgundy foliage that will make for a super dramatic hedge. Plus, it produces red flowers in the spring!
- Azalea Exquisite – perfect for people who want a romantic garden. This variety yields soft pink blooms that look almost like orchids.
Azaleas Care – How to Prune Azaleas
As always, the most important thing when it comes to pruning is exactly what type of azaleas you have. Some varieties can grow very well with no pruning at all while others take a little work.
At the same time, you need to pay attention to timing. If you prune azaleas at the wrong time, they might not bloom at all next year!
As a rule of thumb, always prune your azaleas right after they have stopped blooming.
This will make sure you get rid of excess debris, but that you won’t cut off any new blooms.
You can also get rid of dead branches or wood. But you have to be very precise. Any branches you cut off might hold future blooms.
Types of Azaleas
Buckle up because we’re about to go on a journey. As previously noted, azaleas are some of the oldest flowers in history.
As a result, around the world, there are approximately 800 species classified into 10,000 types of azaleas. Therefore, it would be quite difficult to fit them all in here. And possibly quite boring!
However, we’ve done all the research for you and chosen the best types of azaleas you can select for your garden from all over the world.
Broadly speaking, azaleas can be classified into four large categories, as follows. Here are some examples of azaleas from all those categories.
Azalea Species variety
These flowers are native to the United States. They represent those species that are able to interbreed when in isolation if left alone in nature. What does this mean exactly?
That these azaleas grow from seeds and that they will develop into the exact same plant as their parents. Here are some types of species azaleas you can grow.
Also called the Mountain azalea, you can find this delicate spring flower mostly in Georgia, USA. It produces very light pink blossoms that hang off the shrub gracefully making it the delight of the garden.
If you want to grow Piedmont azaleas in your garden, you will have to replicate its natural conditions. This means as much sunlight as possible and acidic soil that is very dry.
What you will love the most about this variety is its incredibly strong scent. When in full bloom, they smell like cloves. The blooms are often white with just a tinge of pink.
As the name suggests, this variety is a cross between species azaleas and any other hybrid. If you plant seeds, you will not get flowers that resemble their parents. As a result, the only way to do that is to plant cuttings. Examples include the following:
Glenn Dale Variety
This is a group that comprises over 400 varieties of azaleas that were developed starting from the 1920s. They come from the United States and are perfect for colder climates.
As opposed to the Glenn Dale ones, the Aromi flowers are very resistant to heat. This is precisely what professor Aromi created them for back in the 1960s. They come in yellow, pink, red, and orange, to support the idea of warmth.
All azaleas that come from North America are deciduous. This means that they shed their leaves when autumn comes. Their blooms come in a variety of colors that will enrich your garden in summertime and make you happy to be a gardener.
You will immediately recognize this beauty because of its flaming orange color and its intoxicating smell. This azalea produces golden blossoms in very compact clusters which will make your garden look as if touched by King Midas.
This azalea produces pink or rose-colored flowers that are shaped like trumpets. The blooms are also clustered and smell beautiful. As a result, the shrub puts on a theatrical display every spring.
Part of the original group of plants, evergreens come from Japan. They are called thus because they do not shed their green leaves when winter comes. Their flowers bloom in every color.
This group alone holds a few thousands of different types of azaleas. But the most interesting thing is that this is the group that houses bonsai azaleas. Most people love to grow them in pots as the miniature version of the larger shrubs.
The meaning behind the beautiful azalea flower has changed a lot over the years. A long time ago, azaleas had a very ominous symbolism. The reason is that azaleas are extremely toxic.
As beautiful as they are, these flowers also have a high concentration of poison in their nectar and leaves.
Therefore, in Turkey, some breeders feed bees azalea nectar so that they produce a special type of honey that has psychedelic effects. But it can also be deadly in high quantities.
The same effect is mentioned by Pliny the Elder, a Roman historian. He tells the story of a Roman army from ancient times which invaded Turkey. They were poisoned after they ate the same ‘mad azalea honey’ and were defeated.
As a result, the flowers have always had a rather dark symbolism attached to them. They stood for death and gifting someone a bouquet of azaleas in a black vase actually meant a death threat.
However, since Victorian times, azaleas have stood for feminine beauty and the fondness of home, which is also what they meant to the Chinese.
Growing Azalea Is So Rewarding!
There is absolutely no doubt that azaleas are a show-stopping type of flower. They might be a little extra work than you are used to in the garden and they might make you wait a little longer for those gorgeous blooms.
But once you get the results of your work, you will fall in love with them!