Azalea Outlook

Features - Plants

Growers plan to increase azalea production in 2013, want hardier varieties.

December 7, 2012

Azaleas have graced American landscapes since the early 19th century. John Grimké Drayton, owner of Magnolia Plantation in South Carolina, is credited with introducing the first azalea to America. The plants were staples in the southern garden before breeders introduced hardier varieties. Although the market demand for these beauties has ebbed and flowed, there’s still an opportunity to grow and sell azaleas.

Nursery Management asked readers about their azalea production. Production numbers from 2011 to 2012 remained about the same. But there’s good news on the horizon — more than half of those surveyed said they plan to increase azalea production in 2013. The majority of those surveyed said they’ll increase production by 1-10 percent, but almost 20 percent said they’ll ramp up production by 11-25 percent.

When asked which varieties they planned to add in 2013, the most recurring answer was Encore and Bloom-A-Thon. But one responder said “anything hardy in Zones 4-5.”

Most respondents said the azalea market isn’t as robust as it once was, but there were some encouraging remarks. Several growers said their sales have improved. One grower said 7- and 10-gallon azaleas sell best in their market. Another said “there are opportunities for innovation and market-ready azaleas.” Of those surveyed, a smidge more than 50 percent said azaleas take up 1-19 percent of their total flowering shrub production.

We asked readers to identify their top seller in 2012. While answers ran the gamut of varieties, there were a few repeat answers: ‘Formosa,’ ‘Delaware Valley White’ and ‘Hino-Crimson.’

Heads up breeders. Here’s a sampling of what readers want in the form of new azaleas.

  • Deer resistant
  • Great foliage when not in bloom
  • Cold hardiness (this was repeated more than any other attribute)
  • Disease resistance
  • Sun tolerance
  • Compact growth
  • Fragrance
  • Fall color (this was repeated several times)
  • Heat and drought tolerance

Azaleas have some serious staying power. And with the constant demand for new plants, breeders will no doubt deliver more of these garden gems.

Plant Spotlight

Glenn Dale hybrid azalea ‘Glacier’
‘Glacier’ is considered one of the most attractive, year-round, of the Glenn Dale hybrid azaleas. Blooming in the spring, it is distinguished by lustrous dark green foliage and large shining white 2½-inch flowers with a greenish throat.

In the late 1920’s B.Y. Morrison began an azalea hybridizing program at the USDA Plant Introduction Station in Glenn Dale, Md., with the goal of developing large-flowered landscape azaleas, similar to those which grew in southern gardens. But Morrison wanted plants that would be winter hardy in the Washington, D.C. region and provide overlapping periods of bloom from April through June. Morrison used a wide variety of parent material, crossing cold hardy selections with early- and late-flowering colorful, large-flowered evergreen forms that were not hardy in the Mid-Atlantic region. The program lasted 25 years, involved hundreds of crosses and resulted in 454 new evergreen azalea cultivars. The hybrids were distributed from 1942 through 1954 across the United States.

Source: USDA