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New State Azaleas Offer Long Bloom
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Azalea lovers should rejoice over some new varieties that have made their way to our state. Many gardeners don't realize that Mississippi has some of the most progressive and innovative tree, shrub and bedding plant producers from the Gulf Coast to the far north.
A recent nursery tour and field day near Lucedale in George County has a lot of us gardening types excited over new prospects for azaleas. Two azaleas that made everyone take notice are Osakazuki and Aikoku in the Satsuki group.
Osakazuki is a small pink-flowered variety, while Aikoku has a large orange flower. If the flowers themselves don't stop traffic, the foliage is absolutely gorgeous. That's not something you normally rave about when it comes to azaleas.
About a month after most are lamenting the end of the Formosa azaleas bloom, you can revel in a whole landscape of azalea flowers, many of which are extra large. That is the selling point of the Satsuki group.
I know some of these words sound like Oriental take out food, but Satsuki actually means fifth month in Japanese. The fifth month is May when most of these azaleas are in bloom. Satsukis are also winter hardy to 0 or -5 degrees.
The late bloom of Satsukis is welcome in the landscape. While the azaleas in this group are small, reaching only three feet in height, they make up for size in flower power. Gumpos are probably the best known and are available in white and pink with three-inch flowers.
Other popular varieties are Higasa and Amaghasa. The deep rose-pink blooms in the variety Higasa reach 4 1/2 inches wide. The 3 1/2 inch red flowers of Amaghasa are equally attractive. The Satsukis are also handsome in the garden because of their naturally rounded shape. Their diminutive growth habit works well with rocks and small conifers.
There are more than 600 varieties of Satsukis grown in the United States, and they are becoming more popular each year in our area. Osakazuki and Aikoku will ensure this increase in demand, but not all the new and exciting azaleas are Satsukis.
Another new azalea seen on the tour is called Girard Crimson. The flowers are a deep crimson red that is stunning with the dark semi-glossy green foliage serving as the background. The Girard hybrids are named after Peter Girard, a breeder from Ohio who hybridized azaleas for more than 40 years. His varieties are among the most cold hardy in the marketplace.
Satsuki azaleas and others can be planted now and do best in an acid soil with a pH of 4.0 to 6.0. They like raised beds with loose and organic-rich soil. Adding liberal amounts of peat moss, leaf mold or compost will increase the acidity and provide the necessary drainage.
After planting, pay close attention to watering as these beds are quick to dry and the fibrous root system of azaleas is near the surface. Apply a 2 to 4 inch layer of mulch such as pine straw, or pine bark to help keep soil moist and provide winter protection for the roots.
Next spring as azaleas finish blooming, apply an azalea/camellia type fertilizer at a rate of three pounds per 100 square feet of root area.