10 Types of Azaleas for Your Landscape

Pink azalea blooms

Jamie McIntosh

In many parts of the United States, especially the Southeast, it just wouldn’t be springtime without flowering azalea shrubs (Rhododendron spp.). They put on an unsurpassed show of color in woodland gardens in late March and early April.

Because azaleas have been selectively bred for centuries, there are thousands of cultivars, derived from hundreds of species found throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Many of the crucial parent species are natives of western China. Extensive hybridization means that new varieties appear every year, including many that are now suitable for northern climates.

The Rhododendron genus comprises both azalea and rhododendron species. The two classes of flowering shrubs are very similar, with the technical differences found in the structure of the flowers. Rhododendron flowers have 10 stamens, while azaleas have five. Beyond that, azaleas generally have smaller leaves and branches and are more often deciduous (i.e., they shed their leaves annually), while rhododendrons have larger, leathery leaves and are usually evergreen. For the most part, azaleas bloom earlier than rhododendrons.

Here are 10 popular types of azaleas to grow in your garden.

Gardening Tip

Like rhododendrons, azaleas prefer rich, acidic soil, with a pH of 4.5–6.0. This often can be accomplished simply by mulching regularly with pine needs or another acid-rich organic material. Regular feeding with an acidifying fertilizer will also do the trick.

  • 01 of 10

    'Northern Hi-Lights' (Rhododendron 'Northern Hi-Lights')

    The 'Northern Hi-Lights' azalea with white-and-yellow blossoms
    wjarek / Getty Images

    ‘Northern Hi-Lights’ features showy, fragrant blooms that are cream to pale yellow with bright yellow highlights. This variety was developed by the University of Minnesota and has good cold tolerance as well as some resistance to mildew. It grows best in humusy, acidic soil with a moderate moisture level and good drainage. Plant it in a location that gets at least four hours of sun per day and has some protection from strong winds. In terms of maintenance, remove spent flowers to promote further blooming, and water regularly to ensure the soil doesn’t dry out. The cold-hardy Hi-Lights hybrids were created by crossing two very hardy American species, R. prinophyllum and R. canadense, with Exbury-type azaleas. Reliably hardy to zone 4, they sometimes will even survive in zone 3 gardens.

    • Native Area: Nursery hybrid
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4–7
    • Height: 4–5 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Partial
  • 02 of 10

    'Lemon Lights' (Rhododendron 'Lemon Lights')

    The 'Lemon Lights' azalea with yellow flowers
    Apexphotos / Getty Images

    Another cold-hardy introduction from the University of Minnesota, the 'Lemon Lights' azalea hybrid sports blooms in the spring that are a lighter yellow on the edges, blending into a more golden tone near the throat. These showy flowers are excellent at attracting pollinators. The shrub grows slowly, topping out at around 6 feet. Make sure you maintain adequate soil moisture, especially as the plant is establishing itself. Lightly prune to shape the shrub after it’s done blooming.

    • Native Area: Nursery hybrid
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4–7
    • Height: 4–6 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Partial
  • 03 of 10

    'Encore Autumn Amethyst' (Rhododendron 'Conlee')

    The 'Encore Autumn Amethyst' azalea with pink flowers
    blue_sky95 / Getty Images

    Azaleas from the Encore series, such as 'Encore Autumn Amethyst,' with its pink flowers, produce blooms on new growth periodically throughout the growing season, not just in the spring like most azaleas. There are more than 30 Encore varieties available, meaning you're likely to find a hue to complement your landscape. Remove spent blooms promptly to promote further flowering. The blooms will attract butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators to your garden all season long.

    • Native Area: Nursery hybrid
    • USDA Growing Zones: 5–8
    • Height: 4–6 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Partial
  • 04 of 10

    'Hot Shot' (Rhododendron 'Girard's Hot Shot')

    The 'Hot Shot' azalea with red blooms
    Jamie McIntosh

    You should reserve a place of honor for this azalea with vivid red blooms. Like other hybrids in the Girard series, ‘Hot Shot’ is a low-growing plant that works well in the middle of a border. It’s an evergreen azalea, which makes it susceptible to winter weather damage. Give it a sheltered position away from wind and low-lying troughs that can freeze, which can kill the plant's buds. Also, avoid heavy clay soil with poor drainage, which can lead to root rot. However, water consistently to prevent the roots from drying out. This cultivar was bred by crossing R. 'El Capitan' and R. 'Aladdin.'

    • Native Area: Nursery hybrid
    • USDA Growing Zones: 5–8
    • Height: 2–3 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Partial
    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    'Variegated Gem' (Rhododendron 'Girard's Variegated Gem')

    The 'Variegated Gem' azalea with pink blooms and green-and-white leaves
    Jamie McIntosh

    'Variegated Gem' is a variety for gardeners who demand three seasons of interest from their azaleas. This hardy shrub will grace your garden with bright pink spring flowers, white-edged summer foliage, and red fall leaves. It's small and generally doesn’t need much pruning outside of shaping it and removing dead or damaged portions. Plant it in a location that’s sheltered from winds, and consider using mulch around its base to maintain soil moisture. 'Variegated Gem' is a complicated hybrid, for which a cross between R. 'Boudoir' and R. 'Aladdin' was bred with a cross between R. 'Boudoir' and R. 'Corporal.'

    • Native Area: Nursery hybrid
    • USDA Growing Zones: 5–8
    • Height: 2–3 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Partial
  • 06 of 10

    'Fireball' (Rhododendron 'Fireball')

    The 'Fireball' azalea with orange flowers

    Miguel Sanz / Getty Images

    The Exbury azalea hybrids like 'Fireball' are good plants for beginners. Like other deciduous azaleas, they exhibit good cold tolerance and flower freely in the spring. The upright growth habit will ensure that its showy red blossoms won’t get lost among your other spring flowers. This variety has a moderate growth rate but typically needs little pruning. Just make sure your soil stays moist, fertile, and acidic for it to grow to its fullest potential.

    • Native Area: Nursery hybrid
    • USDA Growing Zones: 5–8
    • Height: 4–6 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Partial
  • 07 of 10

    'Fashion' (Rhododendron 'Girard's Fashion')

    The 'Fashion' azalea with coral blooms
    Jamie McIntosh

    The showy coral blooms of the 'Fashion' azalea hybrid might attract the first hummingbird visitors of the season to your garden. A partially shady location with acidic soil will keep this evergreen shrub happy for many years. Unless you get a lot of rain, plan on watering at least weekly to ensure adequate soil moisture. And keep the roots cool and moist with a layer of mulch. Moreover, fertilizing your shrub after it blooms can promote more vigorous growth.

    • Native Area: Nursery hybrid
    • USDA Growing Zones: 6–9
    • Height: 2–4 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Partial
  • 08 of 10

    'Mandarin Lights' (Rhododendron 'Mandarin Lights')

    The 'Mandarin Lights' azalea with orange flowers
    Lindsey Martin Webb / Getty Images

    The ruffled rust-colored blooms of 'Mandarin Lights' will positively glow in the dappled shade of your landscape. Early blooms precede foliage on this deciduous variety, and the sweet fragrance of the azalea flowers is a bonus. 'Mandarin Lights' looks stunning when planted in a woodland garden. It prefers evenly moist soil enriched with composted leaves or manure to increase acidity.

    • Native Area: Nursery hybrid
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4–7
    • Height: 4–5 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Partial
    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    'Snow' (Rhododendron 'Snow')

    The 'Snow' azalea with white flowers

    Sergejs Kartasovs / Getty Images

    The 'Snow' azalea hybrid produces trumpet-shaped clusters of white blooms in the spring that pop against a backdrop of green leaves, and the foliage remains deep green through the winter. The shrub has a slow growth rate and typically doesn’t require much pruning. If you need to prune to shape the plant or remove dead portions, do so right after it’s done flowering. This type of azalea is very particular about its planting site and must have soil that’s rich, acidic, evenly moist, and well-draining. It also benefits from mulch around its base to keep the roots cool and the soil moist.

    • Native Area: Nursery hybrid
    • USDA Growing Zones: 6–9
    • Height: 4–5 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Partial
  • 10 of 10

    Korean Azalea (Rhododendron yedoense var. poukhanense)

    Korean azalea blooms
    NataBene/Getty Images

    The Korean azalea is a naturally occurring species rather than a nursery hybrid. Because it blooms before the foliage has fully emerged, you get a showy display of fragrant, rose-colored flowers in the early spring. Plus, the shrub’s dark green foliage turns orange-red in the fall. This slow-grower tends to extend wider than it is tall. Like most types of azaleas, it prefers rich, acidic, evenly moist soil with good drainage. A layer of mulch is helpful to protect its shallow root system.

    • Native Area: Southern and central Korea
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4–9
    • Height: 3–6 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Partial, Full
Article Sources
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  1. Rhododendron 'Girard's Hot Shot'. Missouri Botanical Garden

  2. Growing Azaleas and Rhododendrons. University of Missouri Extension