Posts Tagged Rhododendron austrinum
At my house during the hours just before sunrise today, the temperature dropped to around 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Fortunately for the myriad tender plants on my five acres, a north wind was blowing in cold air all night. The tender leaves of my canopy trees, the delicate flowers on shrubs and perennials are all as lovely today as they were before the one-inch rainfall of yesterday. However, tonight — we may not be as lucky.
Tonight, temperatures are predicted to be as low as last night’s, but tonight the winds are predicted to be much lighter. If they stop entirely, cold air will tumble down my hill to the floodplain beside the creek, then fill up the lower areas with freezing air, like water filling a basin.
One dark spring about a decade ago, temperatures dropped into the low to mid-twenties just as the canopy giants that tower over my land were pushing out fresh perfect tiny leaves, as they are now. Every leaf was killed. The trees remained winter-bare until June, when they finally managed to summon enough energy to produce another flush of greenery.
So this morning, just in case, tomorrow dawn’s colder than predicted and destroys the spring beauty surrounding me, I went out and took a few photographs. Not every plant is peaking just yet, but this may be all we get this year. The whims of weather are not for mere gardeners to understand, I suppose.
The trilliums I planted last year are all up and showing flower buds. I am hoping the cold will not harm them.
The native deciduous gingers Asarum canadense) I added last year have expanded their numbers considerably. I am worried that this potential food for the Pipevine Swallowtail may be too tender to withstand tonight’s chill.
The Pinxterbloom Azalea is in almost full bloom, its flower clusters bobbing prettily in today’s north wind.
There’s more, but the strong wind prevented me from getting decent photographs of them.
As I wandered the floodplain, I discovered that the frogs and toads have reproduced with spectacular abundance this year. Because of the wonderfully generous rains all winter and, so far, this spring, my floodplain is still covered with a number of channels full of water — long, narrow puddles, basically. Today I discovered all of these puddles are brimming with tadpoles!
These puddles are not very deep — a few inches at most. And now that the great canopy trees are awakening and pulling up water to create leaves, past experience tells me these puddles will be vanishing quickly — barring unusually heavy and regular spring rains. The tadpoles are in a race with evaporation and thirsty trees. Can they metamorphose into frogs and toads before their puddle homes vanish? I confess I’ve spent more than one hour over the years scooping up beached tadpoles and ferrying them to deeper waters. As the water vanishes, the beached tadpoles become food for crows if I don’t intervene. I know it’s all part of Mother Nature’s master plan, but still I can’t seem to stop myself from interfering, at least a bit.
Tonight’s cold is unlikely to be severe enough to hurt the tadpoles. Warm ground will prevent the water from freezing. It’s times like this that I wish I could drop a giant glass dome over my five acres, protecting all the tender vegetation from unseasonable cold spells.
The vegetable garden will be fine. I’ve covered all exposed plants, and the cold won’t last long enough to exceed the protective capacity of those covers. Summer plants in the greenhouse continue to thrive. The tomatoes are becoming quite large. They need the weather to stabilize soon, so that I can transplant them to their summer beds.
The summer birds that have returned should be fine. The cold won’t be deep enough to kill their insect food supply, and I’ll be sure all the feeders are well stocked. The hummingbirds could be adversely impacted, if their favorite food flowers are killed by cold. Sugar water in feeders helps, but they need their native foods too.
So, my fellow gardening friends, keep all fingers and toes crossed for all of us who are facing a freeze warning tonight. Strawberry farmers will be encasing their crop in ice to protect blossoms and fruits. Alas, I’d need a sprinkler system capable of coating the leaves of 90-foot trees to protect my tender vegetation. Not exactly practical.
Here’s hoping these photos are the first of many I’ll be able to share this spring.
As always happens this time of year, Spring is blasting through my yard so fast that I cannot keep up — at least, not in my blog postings. Since early April, every day new bloomers have started while others have stopped. Because I’ve been focused on the vegetable garden, I have not had time to share all the beauty that surrounds me. But fear not, faithful readers, I have been taking hundreds upon hundreds of photographs. Today’s post is the first installment designed to catch you up on all the glorious blossoms.
Let me take you back in time to the middle of April, when my 35-foot tall Two-winged Silverbell (Halesia diptera) was in full bloom. I told you about this spectacular understory native here, but I’ve mentioned it in several other posts over the years. If you search on the name, you’ll find all the relevant posts for this tree. The close-up of the flowers above demonstrates their loveliness — and their popularity with native pollinators.
Here’s what the entire tree looked like this year:
I had to stand pretty far away to get all of it in the photo. That little bit of white at the top right is a bit of the large dogwood trying to show off some of its flowers in the shot.
In the interest of fairness, that aforementioned native dogwood deserves a photo of its own:
To the left in the above photo, you can just see a few blooms of the native redbud variety, ‘Forest Pansy,’ and, of course that’s a bit of Loropetalum ‘Zhuzhou Fuchsia’ filling up the right side of the photo.
Because the showy part of a dogwood flower is actually its bracts, they aren’t quite as pure a white as the petals of the Two-winged Silverbell. But they persist much longer in the landscape.
And, since I mentioned Redbuds, I feel obliged to show you one of the standard natives in my yard in full bloom. Its lavender blossoms are emphasized by the green backdrop of the native Red Cedars behind it.
Now I want to turn your attention to the deciduous azaleas in my yard. I mention them in passing regularly, and you can find all the links by searching on the species or the category. The links that follow point back to the first posts from 2011 in which I described these wonderful understory natives.
Since 2011, all the azaleas have grown considerably. Some attain mature sizes in the 20′ x 15′ range, and I can tell that several of my specimens are well on their way to achieving their full potential. Some species and/or their cultivars bloom magnificently every year, while others seem to alternate years.
First to bloom, as usual, was Pinxterbloom Azalea (Rhodendron periclymenoides). It had its lushest bloom season so far, and thanks to the mostly cool weather, the blooms persisted longer than usual.
Soon after, it’s cultivar, ‘Purple,’ also bloomed, but its blooms were sparse this year.
Overlapping the bloom time of Pinxterbloom was my R. austrinum hybrid, Pastel #19. This shrub is always ridiculously floriferous, and its potent perfume carries halfway across my five-acre yard on spring breezes. When it is at peak bloom, it stops visitors in their tracks every time.
While Pastel #19 continued to bloom, another hybrid, Pastel #20 started its bloom cycle. Perhaps hybrid vigor explains why both these hybrids bloom with spectacular consistency every year.
I love the golden throats on these flowers.
Next to bloom was my R. alabamense, a native that is also reliably floriferous even without the benefits of hybrid vigor.
Its flowers emit a faint perfume that I enjoy for its subtlety.
The mostly cool spring has definitely prolonged bloom time for the azaleas this year.
My Oconee Azalea (R. flammeum) is over 8 feet tall now. Its form is more open than some of the other deciduous azalea species. My specimen bloomed heavily last year. This year, it’s not quite as floriferous, but still a knockout in the landscape.
Last of the azalea natives to bloom so far this year is Coastal Azalea (R. atlanticum). This native of southeastern US coastal plains keeps a much lower profile than my other deciduous azaleas. So far, it’s only about three feet tall in its high spots. The native species is a colonial spreader, but my cultivar, ‘Winterthur,’ is supposed to be more polite. It has gotten wider, but not aggressively so.
The flowers of Coastal Azalea are pure white, with no throat blotches as you see in R. alabamense. They are very potently fragrant — a cloying sweetness that is not my favorite. Because of its smaller size, I often smell the open flowers on this specimen before I see them the first time.
Flowers of a couple of my other deciduous azalea varieties are almost open for business. I’ll show you those soon. Meanwhile, let me close today’s post with a photo or two of my trellis full of blooming Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens ‘Major Wheeler’).
Unlike invasive Japanese Honeysuckle, the Major (as I like to call him) does not spread aggressively. However, it is enthusiastic, so I do cut it back severely every other year. The Major doesn’t object to this treatment, continuing to bloom so magnificently that every visitor to my house stops, gapes, and begs to know his name.
I would tell you the genetic origin of this native deciduous hybrid if I could, but all I wrote on the label was what was likely in the catalog when I ordered it: R. pastel #19. Even though I save almost all the catalogs from this nursery (back to 1999), I can’t find this particular plant listed. I wonder if that’s because they started calling it R. austrinum x R. atlanticum. The pictures of my flowers and the picture they list for that cross are quite similar.
I’m not yet growing a pure Florida Azalea (R. austrinum), but I’ve seen gorgeous specimens in bloom at the NC Botanical Garden (NCBG) in Chapel Hill. The flowers have more red in them. The ones at the NCBG are wonderfully fragrant. My hybrid is also quite sweet, but not overpoweringly so.
I do grow a pure R. atlanticum, which is not yet blooming. Its flowers are white, and the plant is more wide than tall.
The form of my pastel hybrid #19 (I know the number because I wrote it on its label) looks more like that of R. austrinum. Mine is about five feet tall now, as you can see here:
Whatever its origins, it’s a lovely shrub, and it blooms reliably for me every year. I confess I am enamored with the native deciduous azalea clan. I’m growing at least 12 different species/crosses inside a deer fence on the north-facing slope of our yard. They mingle with deciduous magnolias (another obsession), viburnums, native blueberry species, and a growing array of native perennial flowers (with a few irresistible non-native flowers added for good measure).
Without the deer fence, the blooms in these pictures would be impossible. I highly recommend deer fencing to any southeast Piedmont gardener wishing to protect and enjoy a springtime garden.
I think you’ll agree it’s a beauty. That’s Florida Flame Azalea, or Florida Azalea — Rhododendron austrinum, for those who like the Latin binomials. This native deciduous azalea not only looks good, it smells divine.
In my area of the North Carolina piedmont, it blooms in mid-April. The plant in this photograph grows at the North Carolina Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill, NC. If you don’t know about this amazing public garden and you’re an avid gardener, put it on your Must-Visit list. Spend some time on their extensive Web site; it’s full of useful information. In addition to descriptions of their programs and facility, you can scan their southeastern United States invasive exotic plants list, and don’t miss their lists of suggested native plants for your home landscape.
I like this garden because its mission is all about teaching appreciation and conservation of our southeastern natives. And they walk their talk. Their natives-only demonstration gardens illustrate just how beautiful and versatile natives can be. Be sure to tour their new Education Building — LEEDS-certified platinum construction makes it a model for everyone in the region.
I fell in love with the native deciduous azaleas after admiring the mature specimens that bloom at the NC Botanical Garden from spring through summer. Colors range from white to shades of pink, yellow, orange, and deep reds. A mature specimen of Florida Azalea can be 8 to 10 feet tall and wide. Imagine its glowing presence at the edge of your natural area, nestled beneath taller canopy trees.
This particular azalea is one of the easiest to grow. Make sure it gets good drainage, adequate water while it’s establishing itself, and mulch its roots to keep them cool. In a few years, your springs will be filled with the fragrance and sunshine of these amazing shrubs in bloom. They are hummingbird magnets, by the way, because they bloom before too many other food plants are open for business.
Because they are deciduous, these shrubs aren’t usually devoured by deer. There’s nothing green on the plant to attract them when they’re starving during food-scarce winters.
My R. austrinum isn’t as big as the ones at the NC Botanical Garden, but it is growing enthusiastically. The last two springs have been filled with fragrance and color when this beauty lights up the woodland on my north slope. It has plenty of other azaleas to keep it company there. I’ve added most of the native deciduous azaleas, siting them at the top, middle, or bottom of the hill, depending on their preferences. My Florida Flame Azalea flourishes toward the top end of the middle of the hill beneath a nearby mature persimmon tree and an enormous tulip poplar.
The picture above really doesn’t do this azalea justice. If you’re in the southeast piedmont next April or May, find a garden that features this native azalea and see (and smell) for yourself. I predict it will win your plant-loving heart as easily as it won mine.