Azaleas by the nature of their delicate form and fragile beauty could lead the lay person to believe that they are difficult to grow and hard to look after. With few exceptions, this is not so. Azaleas are hardy plants, they are easy to grow, and relatively trouble free. With little care they will give the gardener many years of pleasure and a spectacular floral display. Actually, Azaleas are a series of the Rhododendron family or genus. Azaleas and Rhododendrons were originally classified as separate genera by Linnaeus in 1753 but were both classified under Rhododendron in 1834. Most Azalea botanical classifications now carry the Rhododendron prefix; for example, the popular Azalea Indica group of hybrids is botanically known as Rhododendron simsii. A close comparison of the flowers and foliage of Rhododendrons and Azaleas will show many similarities. Both prefer much the same culture. But gardeners now prefer to treat Rhododendrons and Azaleas as two different species. So, if you see reference on an Azalea label to the word Rhododendron - don't be dismayed. It will be the correct botanical identification, since discarded by all but the most erudite and professional horticulturists! There are two main types of Azaleas: evergreen and deciduous.
In Australia, the evergreen type is the one most cultivated because of its attractive green when not in flower and its ability to withstand drier and warmer conditions. However there are many hybrid groups of deciduous Azaleas. This type is best suited to the cooler moist areas of the Blue Mountains, the Southern Highlands and Canberra. They flower later than the evergreens and the flowers form in trusses. Culture and care is the same as for the evergreen types. A few hybrid Azaleas are notably fragrant.
Plant enthusiasts have created azaleas for hundreds of years. This human genetic modification has produced over 10,000 different cultivars which are propagated by cuttings. Azalea seeds can also be collected and germinated.
Azaleas grow best in well-drained soil or in plant pots in a cool, shady position. They are easily damaged by excessive soil moisture and grow best in acidic soil (4.5 - 6.0 pH). Fertilizer is optional, although some species do need regular pruning.
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