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Encore blooms turn thoughts to spring
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
When we were filming a Christmas Southern Gardening TV segment on cyclamen, we should not have been hit with spring fever, but that is what happened to us in November 2006.
The film crew and I were in Kosciusko with a homeowner. The weather was crisp and beautiful. The crape myrtles had lost their leaves, and the glossy yet sinewy trunks stood out in the landscape as if they were fine statuary. The containers with cyclamen and holiday greenery were in place, but we all felt a touch of spring in the air.
Encore azaleas were putting the jive in our step and making us think way ahead to springtime. This happened again during the Thanksgiving holiday. My wife and I were driving around, and there it was again. The incredible landscape baffled her and amazed me. I had just pulled up my frozen annuals and planted pansies, and here I was looking at spring-like blooms. If spring fever can be achieved so easily late in the year, why aren't the rest of us participating?
The encore of a spring, or should I say the second spring, was occurring because the savvy gardeners had planted Encore azaleas in their landscapes. When you see them in prepared landscapes, you begin to understand their ability and see the potential. The name implies a repeat bloom, like an encore at a concert, but it can be much more like an encore of springtime.
We first planted ours at Mississippi State University's Truck Crops Experiment Station in 1997. There were only a half dozen varieties at the time. To be honest, we have pretty much abused ours, but they are still living despite our efforts. Those half dozen varieties have expanded to 23 and would literally take a book to describe. Most are listed as cold hardy from zones 7 and warmer.
I came across nurseries as far north as Ohio that were selling them and gave them a call. Even though they were further north than suggested, they reported no problem from cold hardiness -- just from soil preparation and people planting in tight clay. I wanted to say I know what you mean.
You might be wondering if Encore azaleas bloom in the spring. They certainly do. After the traditional bloom period, new growth resumes, and buds set and magically repeat a show of blooms. As I have written before, you can't put down a calendar date for subsequent bloom periods. I do know the fall displays are pretty special.
Over the years, I've gotten to know Buddy Lee, an azalea breeder from Louisiana. He is a true plant man, someone you would like to go plant exploring with for the experience of a lifetime. As you might expect, he is a leader in The Azalea Society of America, current president to be exact.
All of the Encore varieties begin with the word Autumn, such as Autumn Amethyst, one of the first varieties and still among my favorites along with Autumn Royalty. You'll find them in virtually every color and a size that should fit somewhere nice in your landscape.
Don't be like those who stick them in unprepared beds of tight, mucky clay. Work in organic matter like compost humus or peat to loosen the soil for good drainage, aeration and root expansion. Azaleas like an acid soil with a pH from 5.5 to 6.5, so adjust as needed.
It's rare to talk about azaleas in late fall, but on the other hand, a landscape in bloom this time of the year is a site to behold.