Plant enthusiasts have selectively bred azaleas for hundreds of years. This human selection has produced over 10,000 different cultivars which are propagated by cuttings. Azalea seeds can also be collected and germinated. Azaleas are generally slow-growing and do best in well-drained acidic soil (4.5–6.0 pH). Fertiliser needs are low; some species need regular pruning.
Azaleas are native to several continents including Asia, Europe and North America. They are planted abundantly as ornamentals in the southeastern USA, southern Asia, and parts of southwest Europe.
While azaleas are nowhere near as popular as they were some years ago, they’re still hard to beat when it comes to producing a mass of garden colour in winter and spring. Azaleas vary in size from small, rather delicate shrubs that are happiest in pots, to the large, hardy indica varieties that seem able to survive all the climatic challenges that are thrown at them. The latter group includes salmon-pink ‘Splendens’, purple ‘Magnifica’ and white or bicoloured bloomers that can reach up to more than two metres tall.
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