Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Lights, Camera, Azaleas!

The Lights Azalea Hybrids are currently in full bloom at Powell Gardens. The Lights azaleas were hybridized by the University of Minnesota and most involve Missouri's only native azalea the Roseshell Azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum). Unfortunately our native azalea defies captivity, in other words, it won't grow away from where it is native no matter how hard we try to cultivate it! I am glad the wonderful fragrance of American native azaleas is still present in most of these hybrids so be sure and take time to smell them. Look for all our Lights Azaleas in the Rock & Waterfall Garden, most along the walk along the north side of the garden (that takes you to the trolley stop).

Candy Lights Azalea is one of the newest and best of the Lights Azalea hybrids with fragrant pink flowers, clean foliage and a compact form.

Rosy Lights Azalea may have the best fragrance of the group and looks most like our native azalea. The flowers are much more rosy pink than the shell pink of wild azaleas. This shrub blooms without any leaves so looks like a full pink bush right now.

Tri-Lights Azalea has white, pink and yellow flowers and is one of the newer hybrids. It is a great performer and can be seen in the core of the Rock and Waterfall Garden between the two bridges.

White Lights Azalea opens softest pink from pink buds and ages to pure white. It is intensely fragrant and perfect for an evening or white garden.

Northern Hi-Lights Azalea has creamy young flowers with an egg yolk blotch on the upper flare -- as the flowers age they are clearly white with a yellow hi-light. The flowers just opened in this picture so are still in the creamy stage. I also really like this plant for an evening or white garden. It is also wonderfully fragrant.

Lemon Lights Azalea is a rich lemony yellow and fragrant too.

Golden Lights Azalea will stop you in your tracks as you walk by: it will first capture your attention with its wonderful aroma and then with its large, golden-orange flowers.

Spicy Lights Azalea is more of a bronzy, pinkish-orange and the first of this hybrid group to bloom. I was happy to see it is still blooming (you can see a floret dropping at the bottom of the image).

Mandarin Lights Azalea is the most vivacious of the group in glowing bright orange. It is a favorite nectar source for hummingbirds and several of our large swallowtail butterflies. I actually expect the first Giant Swallowtails to emerge when this flower blooms and can count on seeing our largest butterfly nectaring on this shrub. This cultivar is not fragrant.
Northern Lights Azaleas are available at many local garden centers. They are a bit tricky to get established in local gardens because of our heavy soils. Here are some tips to be successful with this group of deciduous azaleas at home:
1) Select a site that does not have hot afternoon sun, morning sun is best or light high shade. Lights azaleas grow and bloom nicely in the Rock & Waterfall Garden in full shade of deep rooted oaks and hickories but flower more heavily in more light. Do not expect them to survive in dense shade of maples and lindens which also have voracious surface roots.
2) Make sure your planting site is elevated for drainage and amend the soil with peat or other organic matter like Beats Peat blocks (available at local Westlake Hardwares). I mix in the organic matter with the topsoil in an extensive area.
3) Lights azaleas are often grown in containers in a very light, peaty soil. Be sure and break up the root ball before planting them. I like to split the root ball in 3 places around the sides and literally rip each section up from the bottom. It sound cruel but azalea roots are shallow in the garden and this forces new roots into your topsoil. Most failures occur when folks just plant the soil ball as is and the shrub does not root into the surrounding soil!
4) Mulch your azaleas with pine bark, pine needle or oak mulches if possible. Use your own oak leaves or pine needles whenever possible. Azaleas are shallow rooted and this helps keep them cooler and moist.
5) Water azaleas only when they dry out until they are established and during stressful dry spells. Fertilize with an acidifying fertilizer specially made for Rhododendrons, Azaleas or Camellias.

Two cultivars of Red Horsechestnut (Aesculus x carnea) trees are in full bloom near the Rock & Waterfall Trolley Stop. Red Horsechestnut is a hybrid between Missouri's native Red Buckeye (A. pavia) and the European Horsechestnut (A. hippocastanum).
This is the 'Fort McNair' Red Horsechestnut with carmine pink flowers.
The cultivar 'Briotii' has the most vivacious pinkish red flowers of any of the cultivars. Red Horsechestnuts are very popular in the gardens of Europe but do very well here too. Fort McNair is actually selected from Nebraska. Give them a try for a late spring blooming, moderate sized tree -- they are available at many local garden centers. They also make colorful companions to the Lights azaleas.

1 comment:

chasity said...

beautiful azaleas...
and love the horse chestnuts!