JARS v60n2 - The Schroeder Azalea Hybrids: A Brief History and Update

The Schroeder Azalea Hybrids: A Brief History and Update
Stephen L. & David R. Schroeder
Evansville, Indiana

Text reprinted from The Azalean, Vol. 2, No. 3, Fall 2005

During the spring of 1973, the late Dr. H. Roland Schroeder, Jr., set out to develop a series of hardy hybrid evergreen azaleas. The main purpose was to develop a hybrid that would withstand our climatic conditions here in southern Indiana, and still display a variant array of colorful blooms. In order to accomplish this, it would take several thousand azalea seedlings from various crosses, as each plant would differ, even with the same parent crossings. After careful evaluation, thirty-seven evergreen azaleas were selected, potted up and later set out to test their hardiness. In the spring of 1984, the azaleas produced blooms for the first time, and all thirty-seven were named and registered in the following year.

R. 'Red-eyed Orchid Queen' R. 'Eliza Hyatt'
'Red-eyed Orchid Queen'.
Photo by Jackie Cottom
'Eliza Hyatt'.
Photo by Jackie Cottom
R. 'Doctor James Dippel' R. 'Mrs Nancy Dippel'
'Doctor James Dippel'.
Photo by Jackie Cottom
'Mrs Nancy Dippel'.
Photo by Jackie Cottom
R. 'Maryann Hyatt' R. 'Henry Roland'
'Maryann Hyatt'.
Photo by Jackie Cottom
'Henry Roland'.
Photo by Jackie Cottom

Plant Production and Propagation
Propagation and growing of our hybrid azaleas began in the spring of 1986. At first, due to the lack of sufficient numbers of any named azalea, we sold very few and these were sold to collectors and members of the Azalea Society of America. As time went on, we were able to produce enough of our hybrid evergreen azaleas to sell locally and by mail order. Up until 1990, we sold many of our azaleas through mail orders, but decided that we really needed to concentrate on local sales to other nurseries and to the local public interested in our hybrids. So, In March of 1990 we discontinued our mail order service to better serve our area, for which the azaleas were developed.
For a number of years we grew most of the selected thirty-seven azaleas; but later, when we knew which were more popular locally, we settled on four of our most popular azaleas including: 'Mrs Henry Schroeder' (syn. 'Mrs H.R. Schroeder'), 'Schroeder's White Glory', 'Scarlet Frost', and 'Purple Pride'. These were available in two sizes: the larger 18" to 24" plan and a smaller-sized one of around 12" to 15". Another thing we discovered is that azaleas, regardless of variety, are best grown in shallow but wide flats rather than in conventional nursery pots of gallon size. We also discovered that azaleas grew better in pine bark mulch rather than in peat moss, as the bark mulch allowed better drainage. This growing method worked very well for us, and we were able to salvage the metal flat by selling each azalea in burlap or in a plastic bag. Our customers also appreciated the fact they were able to plant their azaleas sooner and would not have to throw away a good nursery pot.
As time passed, from the years of 1990 to 1999, we started noticing that sales of our azaleas to wholesalers were dropping significantly. Our regular retail sales showed some drop, but not as much as the wholesale section of business. Around 1997 we once again thought about reviving our mail order service, but due to cost of shipping and slow sales we once again dropped the mail order service idea. Also, at this time, the larger chain outlets were starting to sell azaleas and other plant material at a much lower cost than we could have charged and still make a profit and meet operating expenses.

Unexpected Problems
Then we started noticing that our retail customers were becoming fewer and fewer each year. In order to better serve those still interested in our evergreen azalea hybrids we started growing the 12" to 15" sized azaleas in the most popular colors. However, in 2002 our water department, to better serve its water customers and to maintain a clean and healthy water supply, switched from just adding chlorine to the water supply to adding chloramines, a more stable compound. At first we did not think this newly added compound would affect our propagation and growing, but we soon found out that it prevented the azalea cuttings from producing roots, and the chloramines also tied up fertilizers and other chemicals we used to grow our azaleas. We did find that we could propagate our azaleas using rainwater, but the area that we could use was really too small to produce enough plants to carry on business. After extensive research into a solution to our problem, we came to the decision that it would not be feasible to continue. After some 30 years in the nursery business and developing our own hybrid evergreen azaleas, we decided to discontinue our nursery business and retire. We continue to receive many calls concerning ours and others' plants, and we always provide any help and assistance we can.

Other Sources For Our Azalea Hybrids
As for the Schroeder azalea hybrids, there are several other nurseries that are currently growing and selling them. Many have contacted us stating that they have done very well with our azaleas, and just like our experience, there are those particular colors that are the most sought after. We believe that currently the Schroeder azalea hybrids are being grown in gardens and arboretums in all fifty states. We are still very proud of our father's work with evergreen azaleas and other plants, and seeing them listed in catalogs is very rewarding. Also knowing that our nursery was the only one to date in Indiana to develop and propagate its own azalea hybrids was equally rewarding.

Stephen Schroeder and his brother David Schroeder both graduated from Murray State University in 1974. Stephen received his B.S. degree in agriculture specializing in horticulture. David received his B.S. degree in biology. They were co-owners of Holly Hills Nursery, located in Evansville, Indiana, started by their late father Dr. H.R. Schroeder, Jr., M.D.