In more northerly latitudes, spring may still be sputtering to start with all varieties of showers this April. However, south Louisiana already has plenty of flowers announcing the arrival of spring. One staple of southern landscapes is the azalea, and during the first true warm stretch of spring these plants burst forth in bloom in outrageous splendor that absolutely cannot be ignored.
They seem to shout, “I dare you to tell us that spring isn’t here! We. Are. Spring.” Honestly, I’m not one to argue with them, especially some of the older unpruned specimens that could be their own Rose Bowl Parade float.
While azaleas can be found in just about every private yard in Louisiana, the Baton Rouge campus of LSU offers some real azalea beauty this time of year. I think the LSU Alma Mater must have been written some time other than spring because it makes no mention at all of the azaleas. It begins, “Where stately oaks and broad magnolias shade inspiring halls…” leading one to conjure imagery of a place solemn and reserved for the pursuit of knowledge. The trees are impressive, but in the spring, the campus is decked out in all shades of pink and white.
Nothing about them is modest or reserved in the spring. But as spring turns to summer, they resign themselves to pleasant evergreen foliage for the rest of the year. They are truly the beauty pageant belles of Southern gardens, sparkling for a brief moment in the spotlight before settling down in the suburbs with three kids and a minivan. Fortunately for us, horticulturists and azalea breeders have been working on just this problem; the azaleas, that is, Miss Alabama 2003 will have to turn to someone else to renew her beauty. More specifically, breeders have been identifying and selecting for plants that bloom again in the summer and fall. The most successful of these are the Encore azaleas invented by Robert “Buddy” Lee in Independence, LA. We may not understand how at the molecular level these varieties have been ‘tricked’ into blooming multiple times each year, but I’m sure it has something to do with the plant’s internal clock that keeps track of the seasons and coordinates the timing of their reproduction. Nevertheless, gardeners sure don’t seem to care as long as they can continue to enjoy their favorite flowers. For more information about caring for azaleas in your southern garden check out the links below from the LSU AgCenter and Encore Azaleas.
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