Native Azaleas in the Land of Longleaf and Wiregrass
By Ernest F. Koone III Pine Mountain, Georgia
Wild azaleas are the featured native plants of Birdsong's next plant sale on Saturday, October 30 from 9 to 1
The native azalea species of the southeastern states have been called the most beautiful of our native flowering shrubs. It a curious fact that they are seldom employed in landscapes by professional designers. Given proper care after planting, they are as easy to grow as such over-used exotic ornamentals as Forsythia, Hydrangea, Spiraea, Loropetalum, etc.
Native azaleas provide multi-season interest: brilliant flowers in season, most with memorable fragrance, many varieties have colorful foliage in the fall and they can have sculptural forms which give interest to the winter landscape. They are also excellent pollinators.
There are at least 10 species that thrive in the southeastern coastal plain (all native to Georgia). Depending on the species/hybrid, bloom can be had over a seven-month span.
An impediment to use is availability. However, there are a few commercial growers who are growing these plants. Based on retail sales of native azaleas, they are increasing in popularity among general gardeners as well as native plant enthusiasts. Numerous public gardens have extensive plantings of native azaleas, which provide sensational floral displays.
The native species and their hybrids are effectively used in natural areas or in designs where naturalistic effects are desired. They can be understory when combined with large trees and are effective as large growing specimen shrubs or small trees. The large-flowered hybrids (not native) are best used in more formal garden settings.
Southwest Georgia has, for a long time, been the center of native azalea culture in the United States, beginning in the 1920s with the establishment of the nursery and extraordinary 55-acre native plant garden of S. D. Coleman at Fort Gaines, continuing in the 1970s with the nursery of Aaron Varnadoe at Colquitt, and beginning in the late 1980s with the nursery of the writer at Pine Mountain.
Culture of native azaleas is straightforward. The early bloomers appreciate at least a half day of sunlight, later bloomers more shade. Plant in good garden soil, with the root ball a few inches higher than the finished grade. Build the soil up around the edges of the rootball. This technique ensures good drainage. Mulch is essential; pine straw is probably the best material to use with native azaleas. Azaleas respond well to supplemental fertilization. Organic fertilizers such as Hollytone are excellent and 12-6-8 fertilizer also works well. Apply fertilizer sparingly. Probably the only issue with success is keeping the azaleas adequately irrigated during the first two years as they cannot be permitted to dry.
Birdsong's fall plant sales
October 30, November 6
and November 13
See you there!
Azaleas native to the coastal plain
Alabama azalea Rhododendron alabamense
Sweet azalea Rhododendron arborescens
Coastal azaleaRhododendron atlanticum
Florida azaleaRhododendron austrinum
Piedmont azaleaRhododendron canescens
Red Hills azalea Rhododendron colemanii
Oconee azalea Rhododendron flammeum
Plumleaf azaleaRhododendron prunifolium
Hammocksweet azaleaRhododendron serrulatum
Swamp azaleaRhododendron viscosum
Birdsong is Open
Wednesday, Friday, Saturday 9-5
Free Admission on Saturday!
$2.50 Children 4-12
We will continue to observe our Covid-19 protocols, including wearing a mask through the checkpoint and when encountering other individuals closer than six feet away. Once you are out on the trails away from others, masks are not required. Our Covid protocols can be found on our website and on the back of our trail maps onsite.