Rhododendrons + Azaleas: A New England Favorite

Rhododendrons, the quintessential New England foundation planting, are so familiar to us we refer to them fondly as ‘Rhodies’. When we think of them, we most often think of the varieties with large evergreen leaves that have showstopping trusses of pink, lavender, or white flowers in late Spring. In addition to the classics we know and love, there are many other varieties to consider, such as those that offer flowers in soft yellow, rich purple, and even red. As well as the familiar large leaf varieties, there are lovely small leaf cultivars to consider. Rhodies can range in height from low growing 2 foot tall varieties to substantial 12 foot (or more) varieties. Smaller varieties work well in mixed borders while the larger varieties can be planted as a hedge or a single specimen, to act as a privacy screen.

A conversation about Rhodies wouldn’t be complete without mentioning their cousins, the Azaleas. Azaleas are as much a mainstay of home landscapes in our area as Rhodies. They are beloved for the color they bring in the Spring and early Summer and their easy care, low maintenance nature. There are evergreen varieties and beautiful deciduous varieties whose fragrance will fill the garden. Azaleas look great as part of a foundation planting or in a mixed border with perennials and other shrubs.

Deciding which variety of Rhodie or Azalea to choose will depend on the available space and the light conditions in your garden. Generally, azaleas prefer partial shade but they will tolerate considerable sun. The large leaved Rhodies are a better option for shady sites.

If you are wondering whether you have an Azalea or a Rhododendron, the easiest way to tell is to look at the flower and count the stamens. Azaleas have five stamens. Rhodies have 10 or more.

Rhodies and Azaleas are grown around the world. In addition to our New England gardens, they are known to provide one of the most beautiful backdrops in sports. The Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, GA is almost as famous for the billowing masses of colorful, mature Azaleas and Rhododendrons that line the course as it is for the skills of elite golfers. Just think, we can create that beautiful back drop in our own gardens!

For more information on caring for Rhododendrons and Azaleas see our care guide.