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Azaleas, Dogwoods and Rhododendrons



Enjoy the few weeks the azaleas bloom.
Enjoy the few weeks the azaleas bloom.

One wonders why one year is so different from another. The reason is what the old farmers talk about whenever they meet. If you guessed the weather, you’re right.

So what’s different this year? First, the snow cover this winter. It protected the roots and kept them watered as it melted.  Second, the winter temperature.  Because it didn’t go  below zero degrees Fairenheit the buds weren’t desiccated  or “winter-killed”.

Even more interesting is looking at the previous summer’s weather.  If it’s
hot and dry when a particular plant is deciding whether to set more flower
or leaf buds for the next year, heat and drought stress will favor more flowers. If a plant is stressed and thinks it might die, it wants to make lots of seeds, so its genes will survive and live on. But this burst of flowers uses a lot of energy.

So we must worry a little if this Spring’s spectacular dogwood display will mean less vigor next year. And more decline. Our dogwoods have been in decline for many years because of a fungus that kills the lower branches. When it first appeared, the infected trees were cut down to try to contain the outbreak. But that didn’t stop the spread. It didn’t stop Dutch Elm Disease either.

Later, the dogwoods were just left alone, to live or die as they chose. Those in sunny locations with good air circulation seemed to be healthier. My 40 year old dogwoods have lost many branches but did not die.

Suddenly this spring, they exploded into a spectacular overhead canopy of pink and white flowers which have lasted much longer than usual. This is also because of the weather. It’s been a cool, rainy spring, which preserves and protects the flowers. Four or so hot days in a row causes the blooms to wither and fade too fast.

Ensuring a Better Display


Buy rhododendrons in bloom to make sure you'll like the color.
Buy rhododendrons in bloom to make sure you’ll like the color.

All the rhododendrons are amazing this year too. Bushes that languished for years are like a giant’s huge bridal bouquets of rapturous joy and color. With careful planning and enough space, one can have a long season succession of bloom, from April through July.

One thing that makes for a better display is to have several (at least 3) of any one variety of plant, be it dogwoods, azaleas or rhododendrons. (Not necessarily next to each other though.) Another is to be able to see the flowers from inside the house, through the windows.

Always buy azaleas and rhododendrons in bloom to make sure you like the colors. Mulch them, for they have surface roots. Be sure to water deeply once in August, and also if there is a drought and the leaves begin to droop.

But for now, just enjoy the azalea season. For though each individual plant’s flowers last but a few weeks, they are a cheering blaze of blooms to lift the soul. I, for one, will just accept old Mother Nature’s whims and weather with a nod of thanks for this May’s rapturous display. What exactly is the rapture of the garden without its ever changing flowers?

Required Reading

Bulbs for Early Spring
How Gardens Grow
Five Easy Roses

Credit: www.mothersgarden.net