Richard Bogren, Gill, Daniel J.
For Release On Or After 10/12/12
By Dan Gill
It could be argued that azaleas define the spring season in Louisiana. That’s because, for a long time, the most commonly planted azaleas were the large growing Southern Indica types. They produce their flowers in a short but incredible display from mid-March through mid-April. But times are changing.
With the introduction and more common use of alternate-season blooming azaleas, such as the popular Encore and Robin Hill groups, it’s not unusual to also see azaleas blooming during late summer, fall and winter. And that brings us a wonderful fall-blooming Robin Hill azalea called Conversation Piece.
Conversation Piece azalea (Rhododendron ‘Conversation Piece’) is the first Louisiana Super Plants selection to be promoted for the fall 2012 season. The Robin Hill group of azaleas is known for multi-seasonal blooming, typically blooming well in fall and again in spring. Varieties in the Robin Hill group produce large, often ruffled flowers on compact, cold-hardy plants.
The Louisiana Super Plants selection committee chose Conversation Piece azalea because it has all of the great characteristics the Robin Hill group is known for. And it’s a great azalea for Louisiana landscapes. Flower size on Conversation Piece can be nearly 4 inches.
You might be wondering why someone would name an azalea Conversation Piece.
Usually, a “conversation piece” is some unusual or interesting object that sparks a conversation. For the Conversation Piece azalea, the wonderful flowers make this variety the center of attention.
A unique feature of Conversation Piece is that flowers of different colors will appear on the same plant. Some flowers will be dark pink and some will be nearly white, while others are splashed and variegated with dark pink and white with darker pink center blotches – all at the same time on the same plant.
Flowering occurs both in fall and in spring. This azalea is fairly compact, and plants grow 3 feet to 5 feet tall by 3 feet to 5 feet wide. This low-growing, mounding evergreen shrub looks great planted around patios or can be used in foundation plantings in partly shaded areas.
The Louisiana Super Plants program is an educational and marketing campaign that highlights tough and beautiful plants that perform well in Louisiana landscapes. New selections are announced and promoted each year in spring and fall.
Louisiana Super Plants have a proven track record having gone through years of university evaluations and observations by industry professionals. Home gardeners and professional horticulturists alike can benefit from using them Super Plants. Louisiana Super Plants are “university tested and industry approved.”
Fall is an excellent time to plant hardy shrubs like azaleas. Choosing a location that provides proper light is important. Some varieties of azaleas will tolerate full sun if provided with adequate moisture. Generally, however, azaleas grow best when they receive some shade during the day.
Four to six hours of morning sun provided by an eastern exposure is considered ideal. Azaleas tend to have sparse foliage, look leggy and bloom poorly when planted in too much shade. Grown in too much sun, azaleas may wilt frequently during hot, dry weather, and their leaf edges can become scorched and brown.
Careful bed preparation before planting will help ensure success. A soil high in organic matter is important. After removing unwanted grass or weeds from the bed, turn the soil to a depth of at least 8 inches, break up the clods and spread 3 inches to 4 inches of compost, aged manure, finely ground pine bark or peat moss. If the soil where you garden is slightly alkaline, it’s a good idea to make the soil more acid because this is what azaleas prefer. Apply ground sulfur or copperas (iron sulfate) according to package directions to help make the soil more acidic. Finally, sprinkle a light application of an all-purpose or acid-loving-plant fertilizer over the bed. Thoroughly incorporate everything into the bed, rake it smooth, and you’re ready to plant.
Water the plants prior to planting if the soil in the pots is dry. Arrange the azaleas in the bed while they are still in their pots to get the spacing and arrangement right. Remove the pot before planting.
After removing the plants from the container you may see a very dense network of roots around the outside of the root ball. This is not uncommon in container-grown plants. Use a knife to vertically cut into the root ball in several places, or use your fingers to pull apart the root ball slightly and loosen it up. This will encourage the roots to grow out into the surrounding soil.
Azaleas should be planted so that the top of the root ball is at or slightly above the soil level in the bed. Do not plant them too deep. Gently firm the soil around each plant with your hands to eliminate air pockets. Azaleas are shallow-rooted and benefit greatly from mulch. As soon as they are planted, mulch the bed with about 2 to 3 inches of pine straw, leaves or pine bark. Finally, thoroughly water the bed to finish settling the soil.
Azaleas require good drainage, but they also need an even supply of moisture and will not thrive in a location that is constantly wet or constantly dry. Make sure you plant them in beds that are well drained. It will be important to thoroughly and regularly water your newly planted azaleas during summer next year whenever the weather is dry.
Look for Conversation Piece azaleas at area nurseries now. This unique and colorful azalea that blooms in fall and spring is sure to create buzz in your landscape.Rick Bogren