Exbury Azaleas in Nebraska
By Fador Kerein, Shelby, Nebraska
As most of the members of the American Rhododendron Society live along the West and East Coast, it may come as a surprise to some, that the Exbury azaleas can be grown in the middle section of the country. Of those I have tried, the following varieties grow well in this locality; 'Pink Delight', 'Hotspur', 'Basilisk', 'Klondyke' and 'Kathleen'. The Knaphill azaleas 'Marion Merriman', 'Mrs. Anthony Waterer' and 'Knaphill Red' do equally well. Even after the spring and summer, we have had, in nearly twenty years, which caused our corn crop to be a total failure, most of these azaleas couldn't have looked better had they been growing in England.
'Pink Delight', 'Hotspur' and 'Knaphill Red' came through 15 degrees below zero last winter, without injury to the bloom buds. The only protection they had was roll roofing around them to keep out the wind, the top was open. Some of the others were partially killed back, but I think the real damage was done after several days of unusual weather close to zero during the latter part of March after the sap had started to rise. 'Pink Delight' is one of the very finest azaleas to be grown here. It had one truss of bloom this year and now has eighteen ready for next year's blooming. 'Hotspur' bloomed so heavily on a small plant that it has only half as many buds for next season's blooming. The Knaphill varieties, 'Marion Merriman', 'Mrs. Anthony Waterer' and 'Knaphill Red' are full of buds.
There are some Exbury's that I think will never get used to our climate. 'Princess Royal' is one of these, and 'Berryrose' is another. 'Berryrose' is very winter hardy, but it makes many thin stems and has an entirely different form of growth with light green foliage. It takes on a form which looks like a tree in a storm. So far I have been disappointed in both of these plants.
There are several things to remember in growing azaleas in this area. First of all, and this is very important, plant only layers. Don't waste your time or money on grafted plants. Mix plenty of peat with the soil, acid preferred, if you can get it. Use a mulch to keep the ground cool, pine needles are ideal. Sprinkling the plants morning or evening when the air is very dry is good, but is not necessary in the middle of the day. Give them winter protection at least to keep off the wind. My plants get shade from trees after two or three o'clock in the afternoon, but do not think this is necessary on varieties that do well in this climate. When the plants start wilting in the heat of the day it is usually a sign that they need water at the roots.