'Golden Oriole' Azalea Plant Profile

Orange Buds, Yellow Flowers in Spring

golden oriole azalea
David Beaulieu

'Golden Oriole' azalea is a hybrid plant with a long, complicated lineage. It is a member of the Knap Hill-Exbury hybrid group, which originated with extensive cross-breeding of native U.S. and Asian varieties at the Knapp Hill estate of England in the late 1800s. The species used most extensivey in these hybrids are Rhododendron molle, R. calendulaceum, R. arborescens, and R. occidentale.

This beautiful hybrid member of the Rhododendron genus produces orange buds leading to golden-yellow flowers in large showy clusters in early spring. The leaves are 2 to 6 inches long and elliptical in shape. It is a fairly compact shrub, growing to about 6 feet in height, and is highly prized for its unusual color. In fall, the leaves turn attractive shades of bronze.

Botanical Name Rhododendron 'Golden Oriole'
Common Name Golden Oriole azalea
Plant Type Deciduous flowering shrub
Mature Size 6 feet in height, with a spread of 4 to 6 feet
Sun Exposure Full sun to partial sun
Soil Type Moderately rich, well-drained, and kept evenly moist
Soil pH 4.5 to5.5, acidic
Bloom Time Early spring
Flower Color Orange and yellow
Hardiness Zones  5 to 8, USDA
Native Area NA; this is a hybrid azalea with genetic parentage in both in North America and Asia

How to Grow Golden Oriole Azalea Shrubs

Choose a spot in your yard with full to partial sunlight for your 'Golden Oriole' azalea. Prepare the ground for your plant by amending the soil with a mix of 2/3 compost and 1/3 peat moss. The peat moss will help provide both the acidity and the drainage that 'Golden Oriole' needs.

Mulch the plant for winter protection as well as during the growing season, to help the soil retain moisture (plus for weed control). But when mulching for winter protection, avoid placing the mulch right up against the trunk, which can encourage voles to feed on the lower stems.

If you have had a dry summer and do not irrigate sufficiently, your azalea bushes can develop cankers. Prune off affected branches to arrest the spread of this fungal disease.

Light

The further south in its planting range you go, the less sunlight a Golden Oriole azalea requires. It is not, however, a shade plant, so it should receive at least partial sun.

Water

Water 'Golden Oriole' azalea so as to keep the soil moist but not waterlogged at all times.

Soil

All azaleas do best in well-drained soil with plenty of organic material. Adding organic amendments, such as compost, will improve both drainage and fertility of the soil.

Fertilizer

In spring, and following the directions on the bag's label, apply a fertilizer designed specifically for acid-loving plants, such as Holly Tone or MirAcid

Pruning

Regular pruning is not usually needed with azaleas. If you feel the need to prune for aesthetic reasons (to restrict the size of your shrub, for example), it is best to prune azalea bushes right after these early-bloomers have finished blooming. Because these shrubs bloom on old wood grown the previous season, pruning too late in the year will rob you of flowers for next year.

Best pruning practice is to open up the center of the shrub by removing long, stray shoots. When the shrub gets too large for its location, the entire plant can be cut down to within about 1 foot of the ground. Immediately feed the shrub and keep well watered until a large group of healthy suckers begin to sprout up from the base of the shrub.

Comparison With Other Types of Azaleas

Some gardeners do not think of yellow as a common color for azalea bushes. In many areas of the northeastern United States, for example, pink, red, orange, and white are among the most popular colors, but not yellow. Yellow azaleas do, however, exist; for example, the Ghent hybrid, Rhododendron Narcissiflora. The latter may have a superior fragrance, but 'Golden Oriole' azalea is valued for its bicolored look: orange buds and yellow flowers. The mature flowers sometimes retain a bit of that orange color. 

Although 'Golden Oriole' does offer some reddish-bronze fall foliage, there are much better azaleas from which to choose than the Exbury group if you are looking for nice fall color. Two examples that bear red flowers in spring and red fall foliage are:

Landscape Uses

Many gardeners treat 'Golden Oriole' as a specimen plant or use them in foundation plantings. It can also be used in a loose, informal hedge.

'Golden Oriole' azalea is a good plant for attracting hummingbirds and butterflies, and, although not fully deer-proof, it is not among the favored plants of deer. This makes 'Golden Oriole' a good choice for wildlife gardens.

Common Pests/ Diseases

Voles frequently gnaw on the lower stems of azaleas and can kill the plants. Combat this by keeping the mulch well away from the base of the shrubs. Another serious pest is azalea leafminer, which commonly attacks in May. You have to keep a close watch on your plants in order to detect this pest in time. If you do detect leaf miners, either pick them off by hand or spray with an insecticide containing a pyrethroid or Neem oil.