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Azaleas and Rhododendrons
   For a beautiful splash of color in your garden try the hardy shrubs of Azaleas and Rhododendrons.
   Linnaeus created the genus Rhododendron in 1753, at that time he created a separate genus for Azaleas containing 6 species. In 1796 Salisbury disagreed and said that Azalea and Rhododendron could not be maintained as distinct genera. Then in 1834, George Don came along and subdivided the genus Rhododendron into 8 sections.
  The Azaleas belong to the genus Rhododendron: the differences between Azaleas and members of the Rhododendron genus are their size and their flower growth. Rhododendrons grow their flowers in clusters, and Azaleas have one flower per flower stem. Members of the Subgenus Pentanthera have five anthers as typified by deciduous Rhododendron nudiflorum and Subgenus Tsutsusi typified by evergreen Rhododendron tsutsusi.
   Azaleas and Rhododendrons are relatives of the Camelias. One term that is used in describing many Azaleas is hose-in-hose meant to describe what looks like a flower inside a flower. This actually is a flower with a large calyx; sepals of the calyx are shaped like the petals of the corolla.
   Wild species are at home in the alpine regions of the Northern Hemisphere, growing in damp acid soils of hills and mountains.
    Grow Azaleas in well-drained acidic soil in a cool, shady area; at lower elevations they make excellent patio plants since they love the cool shade. If you are willing to take the pains (invest the effort plus expenses) it is possible to cultivate these beautiful plants in quite "hopeless" gardens.
   At the location shown below in summer the climate is rather hot and the soil of the garden is heavy, calcareous clay. Both features are unfavorable for Azaleas or Rhododendrons. One and a half yard deep layer of the topsoil had to be removed and replaced with several cubic yards acidic mix.Then the surface has been covered with acidic red fir bark.
 
   The tall Crataegus hedge interwoven with ivy along the fence at left and a huge, old walnut take care of the shadow just "as the doctor ordered" by allowing only flickering, constantly moving spots of full sunlight since many alpine plants do need lots of light but cannot stand warm ambient temperature.
   Of course if you are not willing to invest such amounts of work and money, there are a number of species and hybrids, which can be cultivated in suitable containers because Azaleas have been hybridized for hundreds of years. By today there are over 10,000 different cultivars. Consult the rich Azalea literature and nurseries; ask for expert advice on which types are suitable for the environment you can provide.

   World famous Azaleas cultivated in containers are the ones living in the nursery of the Schönbrunn Palace near Vienna, Austria, including specimens in cultivation there since the era of Empress Maria Theresa (May 13, 1717 - November 29, 1780). Alas, normally these, by today more than two hundred years old specimens are not on public display, however, you might be lucky to see them by tuning in to the New Year Concert of the Vienna Philharmonics, broadcasted worldwide because there are years when the Vienna Opera (the traditional venue of that concert) is decorated with those indeed royal plants. Yes, those Azaleas do project a royal sight coming across even the telly, indeed…
   Nowadays Azaleas and Rhododendrons are propagated in specialist gardening establishments en masse by cuttings and are sold by the thousands year round, for gardens and special gift plants.
    If you like to stand up to tough challenges then try your hands at the art of propagating them from cuttings - in case you happen to succeed under the usual in home circumstances then you will qualify as certified greenfinger. On the other hand, seeds of many Azalea hybrids can be gathered and germinated for new plants relatively easily.
   Fertilizing Rhododendrons and Azaleas calls for special knowledge, because a number of species do not like high levels of nutrients. Especially if they are overfed wit nitrogen, then once or twice a season they may require pruning or they will grow out of hand and will not flower properly.
    A fun tidbit on the beautiful Azaleas: in Korea a traditional alcoholic beverage made from Azalea blossoms, called dugyeonju — "Azalea wine" — is produced. Could be another reason to grow these gorgeous plants…
Park Seed Hardiness Zones



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