Flowering shrubs commonly called azaleas belong to the Rhododendron genus; in particular they are called azalea mollis practically all the deciduous rhododendrons, some of which are hybrids of the rhododendron molle species, also called soft azalea. These are some varieties of azalea deriving from the deciduous azaleas of Asian origin, which are particularly characterized by the total loss of foliage in winter, and by the incredible color of the flowers, ranging from pale yellow to dark orange. Over the decades various hybrids have been produced starting from botanical species, and in the nursery we can find dozens of varieties of azalea mollis, with very large flowers, white, yellow, orange, red or even pink; some varieties are very fragrant, especially the more "new" ones, since the first hybrids were completely fragrance free.
The shrubs are quite small, not too fast growing, and generally do not exceed two meters in height; the thin stems are quite well branched, and carry, throughout the vegetative season, beautiful lance-shaped leaves, light green, wrinkled and delicate; in autumn the leaves become orange or golden yellow and fall, leaving the plant completely bare. On the completely leafless shrub, in spring, the large buds swell, gathered in bunches, which will bloom before the plant produces the leaves, making the flowering even more striking.
Often in the nursery we tend to call azalea any species or variety of deciduous azalea, also because in Europe it is very likely that it is an azalea mollis, given that most of the deciduous azaleas are of North American origin , and the botanical species of these azaleas are not easy to find on our continent. However it can happen to find some varieties of azalea called mollis which in reality are modern hybrids of azaleas of various types, not necessarily of soft azalea; in fact we can call azaleas all the azaleas that we find in the deciduous nursery, because in general they will all have the same cultural needs, and therefore our mistake in naming the plant will not cause us any problem in cultivating our beautiful azalea shrub orange.
Grow azaleas mollis
The shrubs of azalea mollis they are much appreciated, not only for spectacular flowers, but also because they are generally quite less demanding than all other azaleas, enduring even long periods of drought, periods with very wet soil, very sunny positions, and the intense frost in winter. Not being evergreen plants, for the whole winter period they are in complete vegetative rest, therefore they can bear frost, weather, snow and cold, without any problem.
They are planted in a good soil for acidophilic plants, possibly very rich, or with the addition of manure, and lightened with sand, perlite or pumice stone; for azalea mollis it is good to choose a sunny corner of the garden, so that they enjoy a good luminous position and with direct sun for most of the day, having however care to repair them from the sun more scorching on hot summer days.
They are watered only from March to April until October, when the ground is well dry; they can withstand the drought or the ground flooded with water, as long as they are not recurrent or long-lasting events; It is therefore good to water regularly, so as to avoid excessive stress to the plant; to ensure adequate fertilization it is advisable to spread around the plant a slow release granular fertilizer, so that it dissolves every time we water it.
As with most acidophilic plants, even azaleas are often subjected to ferric chlorosis, this is often because the water in the aqueducts is rich in limestone, which over time deposits in the soil, making it excessively alkaline; for this reason it is advisable to always supply the azaleas with water that has been decanted for a while; if we do not have many plants we can prepare 2-3 watering cans every day, which we will supply the following day: after having emptied them, rinse them and fill them again for the next watering. Clear that, if we have decided to prepare a large flower bed of azaleas, this device is practically forbidden, therefore we either supply rainwater, or we prepare ourselves to periodically replace part of the soil at the foot of the plants with fresh soil for acidophilic plants; or even a couple of times a year we supply our azaleas with soothing fertilizer, specific for plants that love acid soils.
Azalea mollis do not fear the cold, so they can stay in the garden all year long; even the most intense frosts do not ruin the plants; a particular consideration is however to be taken with regard to potted plants, because very intense frost could freeze the entire earthen bread that covers the roots: in this case, therefore, we move the pots to a sheltered place, or we cover the entire pot with woven fabric, to prevent the roots from being damaged by frost.
Azalea mollis: Prune the azalea mollis
The azaleas do not require large pruning, and even the mollis are no less; occasionally it is good to shorten, after flowering, the tallest branches, which tend to rise, leaving the very empty plant in the lower part. In fact this type of development of azalea mollis, with tall and thin shrubs, is often due to a positioning in an excessively shaded area of the garden; therefore rather than pruning the plant every year, it is perhaps better to move it to a brighter area of the garden.
The only fundamental pruning to be done on azaleas consists in removing the withered flowers, shortening the stem that carries them; if we do not remove the withered flowers, the plant will begin to produce the fruits and therefore the seeds: for this production the azaleas employ a large part of their energies, so much so that often they have no more to prepare the flower buds, or anyway to prepare them in great number. So there is a tendency to prevent azaleas from producing all the seeds, to save them the great work that this task entails.
Clear that, if we intend to try to produce seed azaleas, to see what comes from the children of the azaleas we have in the garden, then we will leave the withered flowers on the plant, until we get the seeds.