Monday, September 02, 2013

Fall colors with Azalea Blossoms
Bloom-a-thon Pink Double

The cool evenings of fall are fast approaching. My garden handled the summer heat particularly well, but there isn’t too much color in the shrub area of my garden, but there soon will be a burst of blooms.  Although spring  is the season that is traditionally associated with azalea blossoms, plant breeders have been working to change that association by creating stunning new varieties that bloom in multiple seasons.

The Encore Azalea series was invented by plant breeder Robert e “Buddy” Lee of Independence, LA. Lee first envisioned Encore Azaleas in the early 1980’s when he found a tray of azalea cuttings blooming in the summer sun at his small Louisiana azalea nursery. Inspired, he began crossing tradional spring-blooming azaleas with the rare Taiwanese summer-blooming azalea, Rhododendron oldharnii. His crosses bloomed heavy in the spring, flowed by occasional surprise blooms in the summer.  Fall comes with the finale, with a set of blooms just as heavy as it flowered in the Spring.  A true encore in the garden.

These original crosses were well accepted down south.  They became so popular, that we were constantly getting phone calls asking if we carried them. Unfortunately at the time, there wasn’t any varieties that would survive the NJ winters.  The good news is that there are now almost ten varieties that will survive our winters.  Encore Azaleas like more sun than some of the other azaleas. I would recommend a minimum of one half a day.  Azaleas prefer their soil slightly acidic. For optimum flower bud production, feed twice yearly with my favorite evergreen food by Espoma, Holly-Tone.

The following varieties are all rated for zone six, and will survive our NJ winters.  
  • ‘Autumn Debutante ®’ has large bright pink flowers. It will grow to approximately 4’ tall x 4’ wide.
  •   ‘Autumn Princess’ has unique salmon pink flowers that blend with any other flower color. It will grow approximately 3’ tall by 3’ wide.   
  • ‘Autumn Rouge®’ has gorgeous red-pink flowers. It grows approximately 4’ tall and 5’ wide.  
  • ‘Autumn Amethyst®’  is covered with clusters of dark lavender flowers. It grows approximately 4’ tall and 4’ wide. 
  • ‘Autumn Embers®’  has orangey-red flowers. It grows approximately 3 ½’tall and 3 ½’ wide. 
  • ‘Autumn Royalty®’  was voted Azalea of the year in 2004 by the American Rhododendron Society.
  •  It is an extremely forgiving variety and can tolerate temperature extremes.  It has purple flowers, and grows 5’ tall and 4’ wide.  
  • ‘Autumn Sangria®’ has deep dark pink flowers. It grows 5’ tall and 4’ wide. 
  • ‘Autumn Sundance®’  has pretty bright deep pink flowers. It’s foliage will turn reddish in the winter. It grows 4’ tall by 4’ wide.  
  • ‘Autumn Twist®’ has one of the more interesting colored flowers. It’s blooms are striped in vivid red-purple and white, with some flowers solid red-purple.  It grows 6’ tall and 5’ wide. It is just a tad less tolerant to cold winters, and I would recommend planting this one more sheltered location.

Bloom-a-thon Red
Bloom-a-thon ® Azalea’s were bred by Bob Head, and do best in part sun to dappled shade.  They are all evergreen and are all winter hardy to zone 6b. They flower for months instead of weeks. Their first cycle of blooms is in late April, followed by continuous lighter cycles of blooms through the summer and then  flower heavily  again in the fall and continue blooming until a hard frost.  I feel that the growth habit on these azaleas is tighter than the Encore Azaleas, but the flowers are slightly smaller.  The foliage is disease resistant, and maintains excellent color year-round.  The Bloom-a-thon® Azaleas like to be in part-shade, and can tolerate more shade than the encore azaleas. There are less varieties than the encores, and these are what are currently available:
  •  ‘Pink Double’ with its incredibly doubled, bright pink flowers. It grows 6’ tall and 5’ wide.  
  • ‘Red ‘ has slightly doubled Bright crimson-red flowers.  It grows 5’ tall and 4’ wide.
  •  ‘Lavender’ has large ruffled deep lavender flowers that are sprinkled with deeper rose freckles through the throat. It grows 6’ tall and 6’ wide. 

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Summer Tree Fireworks Spectacular

We probably spend more time in our yards in the summer than any other time of year.  Almost all of the other trees have finished blooming, however the Crape Myrtles have yet to burst into bloom. Colors range from pinks, to purples, to whites, and reds.  Crape Myrtles (Lagerstroemia) used to be a tree that could only be enjoyed if you lived in Cape May or further south. There have been several things that have changed that have helped to bring these wonderful trees into our gardens.

For those that are interested, there seems to be a debate over the common name. There are lots of gardeners that argue that the name is “Crape Myrtle” and others “Crepe Myrtle.”  The flower resembles crinkled “crepe” paper, but the proper English spelling is “crape.” My opinion is that either spelling would be acceptable.  The flowers look delicate, but are very sturdy. The bloom lasts for almost three months, making them one of the longest blooming trees in the garden. They generally start blooming here late June or early July.

Crape Myrtles originally were USDA hardiness zone 7-9.  The USDA recently has changed our hardiness zone.  Our average winter temperatures have not been as cold in Westfield, so our current hardiness zone is now 7a. There also has been quite a bit of breeding and selection of hardier varieties, which has led to more choices of varieties that will grow in our area.  I generally like to grow my Crape Myrtle as a multi-stem tree, as it seems that it responds to our winters better.  Crape Myrtles flower on new wood which means that the best time to prune them is early spring.  Powdery mildew seems to be the only problem that affects them, but many of the newer varieties are resistant.

These are some of the more popular varieties: (All zone 6 unless noted)
  • Lagerstroemia ‘Catawba’ : Dark Purple flowers. Grows 15’ tall. Foliage has a bronzy cast in spring, bright green in summer, and orange-red fall color. Zone 7.
  • Lagerstroemia ‘ Tonto’ : Fuschsia  flowers.  Grows 8’ tall. Orange-red fall color.
  • Lagerstroemia ‘Tuscaroa’ : Coral Pink  flowers.  Grows 15’ tall. Orange-red fall color.
  • Lagerstroemia ‘Muskogee : Light lavender  flowers.  Grows 15’ tall. Red fall color.
  • Lagerstroemia ‘Zuni’ : Medium lavender. Grows 9’ tall. Orange-Maroon fall color.
  • Lagerstroemia ‘Dynamite’® :Fire Red. Grows 15’ tall. Orange-Red fall color.  (A personal favorite)
  • Lagerstroemia ‘ Red Rocket’ ®: Ruby Red. Grows 15’. Dark green summer foliate. Bronze-red fall color.
  • Lagerstroemia ‘ Raspberry Sundae’ : Raspberry red with a touch of white. Grows 20’ tall. Sterile with very few seed pods.
  • Tonto
  • Lagerstroemia   'Red Filli' : A dwarf variety that only grows 2’ tall. Red blooms. Purplish fall color. Zone 5.
Down South the bark of the Crape Myrtle is considered one of its major ornamental features. They develop very dramatic bark that peels back as they get older.  We don’t see that feature as often in our location because sometimes winter will throw us a curve with lower than normal temperatures. If the temperature drops below 0⁰ F, the top portion of the Crape Myrtle could be killed off. However, this is not the end of your Crape Myrtle! The roots can withstand these sub-zero temperatures.  Once the tree leafs out in the spring, be sure to prune off any dead wood. We have one tree next to my parent’s house that was about 10 feet tall, and the winter die back killed it off to a one foot stub. We cut it back, and it was back to six feet tall and blooming the very same year.

Because of the cool Spring the Crepe Myrtles are just starting to set their flower buds. You will have many months of blooming enjoyment on these plants.