By Yvonne Lelong Bordelon
The beautiful fragrant flower clusters of native Piedmont azalea put on a show in early spring just as the leaves are emerging. These hardy, deciduous shrubs, which grow along creeks, swamps, bluffs, and in moist flatwoods, can form colonies and will also hybridize readily with other native Rhododendron species.
In the landscape, Piedmont azalea is used as a single specimen or in masses with other azalea species and shrubs. Good companion plants include sweetbay magnolia (M. virginiana), fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus), wild blueberries (Vaccinium spp.), and partridge berry (Mitchella repens).
Though the flowers smell similar to those of honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.), all parts of the plant are poisonous to humans if ingested. However, deer enjoy eating the plant with no ill effects.
Quick Facts and Keys to Success
Common Name: Piedmont azalea, pinxter flower, and honeysuckle azalea
Botanical Name: Rhododendron canescens
Varieties/Cultivars to Look For: ‘Varnado’ and ‘Varnado Pink’; there are also many natural hybrids
Color: Pink to white flushed with pink
Blooming Period: Early spring
Type: Native deciduous shrub
Mature Size: 6-11 feet
Exposure: Part shade to sun; blooms more in sun or high shade.
When to Plant: In fall when dormant
How to Plant: 5-6 feet apart in moist, acidic, well-drained soil. Mulch with pine needles. Propagate with seeds sprinkled over a soilless mixture, keeping moist with a plastic tent. Also by cuttings in summer or dividing clumps.
When to Prune: Can be pruned after blooming, but it’s better to leave them in their attractive natural form.
In Your Landscape: Native deciduous azaleas are prized for their fragrant early spring flowers, lovely natural form, and shade tolerance.