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Native Plants Series: Azaleas

Most azaleas you see growing in landscapes or at the garden center are Asian hybrids. I rarely see one in a landscape that is not affected by disease or insect invasion. Also, I personally think they're hideous. You may have seen my post last year where I ripped out six fuchsia pink azaleas that I inherited with my house. I should have done that years earlier.

Luckily, we have some native options!

There are two azaleas native to SC PA: the swamp azalea (Rhododendron viscosum) and the pink or pinxterbloom azalea (Rhododendron periclymenoides). Both are slightly fragrant. Here Rhododendron species are a host plant to at least 53 species of moth and butterfly caterpillars.

The swamp azalea is native to the the eastern and southern US states. It grows in swampy lowlands so it likes moist to wet soils and even tolerates flooding. Its white to pale pink flowers bloom from May to July attracting hummingbirds and butterflies. It's root system is shallow, so it appreciates some good mulch.

The pinxterbloom azalea has a slightly more limited native range than the swamp azalea, growing in moist woods and swamp margins. It prefers rich acidic soils that retain moisture but are well-drained. It will tolerate rocky soils, but not heavy clay. This azalea blooms in April in a soft pink color. This guy should tolerate insects and diseases better than most hybrid azaleas you find.

Sources: USDA, Missouri Botanical Garden, National Wildlife Federation

PHOTO: @ mary.arnold.rva

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