Two things I miss about spring in the Vancouver area, where I worked in a garden centre for a few years before making the move back to paradise, aka the Okanagan; the streets lined with flowering cherry trees and the gardens filled with evergreen azaleas in full bloom. The colours of the azaleas were so vivid they would make your eyes hurt on sunny days and the blooms were so thick the foliage was invisible. I loved going to the Nitobe Japanese Garden at UBC when the azaleas were in bloom. Our garden centre would sell truckloads of one gallon plants every spring. Although our growing conditions make growing the evergreen azalea a little more challenging, we certainly can enjoy them in our gardens, with a little prep work and attention to location.

Typically evergreen azaleas (Azalea japonica and numerous hybrids) grow no more than .5 to .75 metres tall and wide. Being members of the rhododendron family they like shade from the afternoon sun, moist, acidic soils and regular watering, especially during the summer. Plants with peat moss and apply mulch over the roots (shredded bark or pine needles) to keep them cool and moist. Hardiness varies depending on type. Girard hybrids are good choices for colder climates like ours as their buds are hardy to about -20 deg. C. Winter hardiness is increased when the plants are well-watered in late fall and kept out of the cold, drying wind.

The blooms are simply stunning, and their relatively small size makes the evergreen azalea a great choice for the edge of mixed shady borders, where they can light up a dark corner like few plants can. Good companions are hostas, astilbe, pulmonaria or bleeding hearts. If you have room consider massing three plants together for a show that will stop traffic. Do not plant azaleas where roots from larger trees will compete; like most rhododendron family members their roots are quite shallow and fibrous and they will struggle to establish themselves successfully.

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