Encore® Azalea 101: A Crash Course on Flower Families

With the addition of new varieties each year, the possibilities for creating beautiful banks of color in your garden with Encore® Azalea are continually expanding. But with an extensive array of Encore®Azaleas from which to choose, gardeners may feel a bit overwhelmed. To simplify matters, here’s an introductory course covering all 31 varieties of Encore Azalea.

A Family Affair

It all began more than 15 years ago, when Robert “Buddy” Lee, a nationally-known plant breeder, began crossing traditional spring-blooming azaleas with the summer-blooming azalea, Rhododendron oldhamii, to create the Encore Azalea family. “Azaleas are easy to grow, and they’re really colorful. I was just fascinated with them,” says Lee.

“The real excitement occurred when I crossed the summer blooming azaleas with traditional spring bloomers. I couldn’t believe how long they bloomed." 

The family groups below sprung from Lee’s discovery, and serve as a guidepost to differentiating among Encore Azalea varieties. While they may include contrasting bloom colors, they primarily share similar growth habits. As you become more familiar with each family and its features, you will be well equipped to design a landscape featuring Encore Azalea varieties with similar, or purposely contrasting, growth habits.

Debutante & Sweetheart; Sunset, Sunburst, Lilac & Starlite

Picture a bank of warm peach and coral blooms set against both demure and dynamic shades of lilac. That’s what this bunch is all about. Autumn Debutante™ boasts large, pale pink, single blooms and lustrous dense foliage while Autumn Sweetheart’s™ pale pink/lavender flower appears two-toned, and often produces double blooms. Both of these intermediate shrubs may grow to an average height and width of four feet. The last four azaleas in the family are dwarf varieties. Autumn Sunset’s™ showy, semi-double, warm red blooms grow compactly, just like Autumn Sunburst™, blooming profusely in spring, summer and fall. Sunburst’s unique single and semi-double blooms of coral pink and white ruffled edges stand out against compact dark green foliage. Autumn Lilac™ features brilliant lavender blooms with darker purple freckles contrast with evergreen foliage. Bred to be cold hardy, its rounded form will peak at about three feet. Autumn Starlite™ would be the light accent in the family, a faster-growing variety featuring soft green foliage and three-inch white blooms flecked with pink. Most varieties in this family would flourish in USDA Zones 6-10, with Starlite hardy in USDA Zones 7-10.

 

Coral, Chiffon and Ivory

Create a rainbow of soft pinks set off by a bright white with this combination. Compact pink Autumn Coral™ and bi-color Autumn Chiffon™ may be smaller in stature, but are especially heavy summer bloomers. Autumn Ivory™ is also a compact grower, bursting with huge quantities of two-inch bright white flowers in spring, summer and fall. These varieties will grow to 2.5 feet tall by three feet wide making them ideal for containers and foundation plantings. All will thrive in USDA Zones 7-10.

 

Royalty, Twist, Sangria, Lily and Carnation

A regal group indeed, they are some of the most cold-hardy varieties, thriving from USDA Zones 6a-10. Beginning with an award-winner, Autumn Royalty™ boasts bright, purple blooms that span 3.5 inches across on plants reaching from 4.5 feet high to four feet wide. This showstopper was voted Azalea of the Year by the American Rhododendron Society. Autumn Twist™ makes a nice bi-color compliment to Royalty, featuring the same size plants, fast growing also, with bright purple blooms with white stripes – sometimes surprising with an occasional solid purple bloom. Another fast-growing variety in this group is Autumn Sangria™, aptly named for its large, vibrant neon pink flowers. Autumn Lily™, which grows to 4.5 wide by four feet tall and features three-inch white blooms with occasional single, delicate purple stripes, was cultivated for strong growth and profuse blooms. It is perfect for mass and foundation plantings. A recent addition to the collection known for its exceptional flower quality and color is Autumn Carnation™. This intermediate-sized beauty features medium pink, semi-double blooms spring, summer and fall, and bronze foliage in the winter.

 

Amethyst and Jewel

This group features two beautiful varieties, truly gems for the year-round garden, sporting their attractive purple foliage in the winter. Autumn Amethyst™ features stunning two-inch purple blooms show off in spring, summer and fall. Autumn Jewel™ has bright pink two-inch blooms create a nice counterpart in jewel tones, both growing to four feet wide and tall and sharing a cold-hardy status in USDA Zones 6a-10.

 

Monarch, Princess, Moonlight, Belle and Empress

There is drama in this family, beginning with the showy Autumn Monarch™, a robust, tall variety with light green foliage and striking ruffled blooms that offer shades of orange-pink and specks of red. Monarch works well as a background plant in this group. Reaching five feet in height, this impressive azalea will thrive in USDA Zones 6b-10. Staying in the ruffled family and same USDA Zones is Autumn Princess™, a dwarf variety topping out at 3.5 feet high and three feet wide, with pink, semi-double two inch blooms set against dark green summer foliage that turns a striking purple in winter. Another tall beauty in this family is Autumn Moonlight™, a fast-growing upright variety growing to five feet tall, with semi-double blooms of white ruffled flowers set against light green foliage. It’s the perfect complement for Autumn Belle™– another fast- growing upright variety with light green foliage and bi-colored cotton candy pink ruffled flowers. Moonlight and Belle are recommended for USDA Zones 7-10. Bronze beauty Autumn Empress™ is cold hardy to USDA Zone 6b, and features medium pink semi-double blooms with dark green summer foliage that deepens to bronze in winter. It grows to four feet tall and three feet wide.

 

Cheer and Ruby 

This little family of dwarf azaleas is known for its compact growth habits and for dainty blossoms that span only 1.25 inch across. Autumn Cheer™ will reach a height of three feet and spread to 3.5 feet, displaying a pleasing, rich pink blossom. Autumn Ruby’s™ blossom is deep red and delicate on a 2.5 feet tall plant. Both would be well suited for small gardens and for planting in USDA Zones 6a-10.

 

Embers, Rouge, Carnival, Angel, Sundance, Fire and Bonfire

The final family of azaleas may stand alone or combine their unique characteristics to create a stunning sea of red, pink, and a touch of white. Autumn Embers™ is three feet high with a plant spread of 3.5 feet, but its dramatic 2.5 inch semi-double blooms create a warm blaze of red in USDA Zones 6b-10. Next in line is the original Encore Azalea, Autumn Rouge™, with color as subtle as a diva’s blush. Its dark, lustrous foliage accentuates a beautiful pink, semi-double bloom. Standing taller than Embers at four feet, it will thrive in the same zones, as will its dwarf cousin Autumn Carnival™, another pink semi-double blooming azalea. Its carnival of fluorescent blooms creates a stunning contrast against deep green foliage. New to the family is Autumn Fire, the first true red Encore Azalea with purple bronze winter foliage, and now Autumn Bonfire, with true red blooms and year-round bright green foliage. Another pink beauty is Autumn Sundance™, boasting vibrant fuchsia blooms and reddish winter foliage. This dwarf shrub is cold hardy to USDA Zone 6a. Finally, to tie it all together is Autumn Angel™, adding the serenity of pure white, three-inch single blooms set against dark green glossy foliage. This versatile addition to any landscape is hardy in USDA Zones 7-10.

Join the Family

With their established reputation in the plant industry, sun tolerance unlike traditional azaleas, and cold-hardiness for the majority of the plants to Zone 6, there is much to love about the diverse beauty of Encore Azaleas. Find your favorites from the families above, and explore this site for more information on purchasing, planting and enjoying the magic of Encore® Azaleas – spring, summer and fall.