In several parts of the United States, especially throughout the Southeast, springtime wouldn’t be the season it is without flowering azalea varieties. They put on a brilliant show of color in woodland gardens starting in late March and going until early April. Because this plant has been selectively bred for centuries, you can now choose from thousands of cultivars and hundreds of species in the Northern Hemisphere. Many of the parent azalea varieties came from China, and extensive hybridization means that you’ll get new varieties each year.
The Rhododendron genus has both rhododendron and azalea varieties, and the dual classes of flowering shrubs are very similar. However, they do have technical differences when it comes to the flower structure. Rhododendron flowers come with 10 stamens and azaleas have 5. Aside from this, they have similar branches and leaves, and they’re usually deciduous. Rhododendrons have leathery, larger leaves and are typically evergreen. Azaleas also bloom earlier. We’ve picked out 17 stunning azalea varieties for you to consider below.
Azalea varieties are very pretty bush-like flowers that you can grow in a variety of planting zones, and they offer stunning flowers in the very early spring months. Azaleas by Peter Miller / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
1. Autumn Lilac Encore Azalea (Rhododendron ‘Robles’ Autumn Lilac)
One popular azalea variety from the Encore group is the autumn lilac. They have lighter colored flowers, and they’ve a very similar shade to the common lilac. The bloom time will start in early April and go through May each year. It’s a good choice for people who live in warmer regions as it does best in zones seven to nine. They get up to three feet tall and wide, so this is a much more compact plant than others.
You’ll want to plant this azalea variety in a place that gets partial shade so it has some protection from the sun. It likes acidic soil that you keep at a medium moisture level. This is a nice plant for beginners to try because it’s not terribly fussy about the growing environments, but you do want to watch the water to ensure that you don’t give it too much.
2. Coast Azalea (Rhododendron Atlanticum)
This pretty azalea variety has very fragrant flowers with a two-toned coloring. They are primarily white in color, but you can find ones that offer a pretty light pink hue. The leaves of this plant also add welcome color to the display. The leaves are a traditional green color but they have a bluish tint to them, and the unique coloring offers a nice contrast to the lighter flower colors. This plant is slightly larger, and it tops out at around six feet tall by five feet wide, and it spreads using suckering.
As a bonus, this azalea variety can tolerate more sun than most plants. You can put it in a spot that gets partial shade, and you want to make a point to keep the roots moist all summer long. If the roots aren’t moist, the leaves can scorch with direct sunlight. If you plant it in the yard, make sure that you put down a mulch layer because this will help the roots retain moisture and stay cooler. It is best planted in zones six to eight, and the soil should be acidic. It blooms in April.
3. Cumberland Azalea (Rhododendron Cumberlandense)
A lot of people confuse this azalea variety with the flame azalea. This is due to the fact that they both thrive in a similar region and their flowers look very similar. However, there are a few key differences. Both do have orange flowers, but this azalea’s flowers are typically smaller in size than the flame azalea. They also bloom slightly behind the flame azalea, and you’ll see much less color variation. This plant originates from the Cumberland region of Kentucky, and this is where it gets its name.
You can grow this azalea variety anywhere from North Carolina to Georgia without a problem. Regardless of the state you’re trying to grow it in, it does best when you plant it on exposed slopes and mountain tops. In residential settings, you’ll want to have it planted as a specimen planting. It loves full sun to partial shade, and it can get up to seven feet high and six feet wide under the right growing conditions. It likes moist and acidic soil, and it’ll bloom through the month of June with bright orange flowers that contrast sharply with the deeper green leaves.
4. ‘Encore Autumn Amethyst’ (Rhododendron ‘Conlee’)
Any azalea variety from the Encore category, including this pick, have pretty pink flowers that produce blooms on and off during the growing season on new growth. Unlike most azaleas who have one solid bloom time, you’ll get small waves of flowers. There are currently more than 30 Encore azalea varieties available on the market, and this will allow you to find the best color to suit your landscape.
You want to remove any spent blooms quickly as this will encourage new flowers to form. The blooms will work to attract butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, and a range of other pollinators. They are best planted in zones five to eight, and they can get four to six feet tall and wide at full maturity. You want to put them in a location that gets partial sun exposure to help encourage steady growth with more flowers.
Pink azaleas can be show-stopping when you set them against darker green foliage, and this particular plant is nice because it blooms consecutively over a few months. Azalea by Ian Sanderson / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
5. ‘Fashion’ (Rhododendron ‘Girard’s Fashion’)
The very showy coral-colored blooms that this azalea variety offers could be the first to attract hummingbirds to your yard in the spring months. You can keep this evergreen shrub happy relatively easily but planting it in an area that is more shaded, and the soil should be acidic but very well-draining so water doesn’t sit by the roots all of the time to encourage root rot. You will want to water weekly unless you live in a wet area.
You’ll add a layer of mulch around this plant to keep the roots cool and moist and prevent scorching. If you fertilize your shrub after it finishes blooming for the season, you can promote better growth. This is a nursery hybrid, so it doesn’t have a particular origin. However, it grows best outside in zones six to nine. This is a smaller azalea variety that can get up to four feet tall and wide at full maturity.
6. ‘Fireball’ (Rhododendron ‘Fireball’)
Any exbury azalea hybrid plants like this pick are excellent choices for any beginner gardener. They’re a deciduous azalea bush, and they offer much better tolerance to the cold than other options. They also flower freely during the spring months. It has an upright growth habit to it that is very pretty, and the bold red booms won’t get lost when you put it in a landscape design that includes other showy spring flowers.
You get a moderate growth rate with this azalea bush, but you’ll only have to prune it a little to keep it looking nice. You want to ensure that your soil stays fertile, moist, and acidic to promote steady but moderate growth. It’s a nursery hybrid that does very well when you plant it in zones five to eight. It’ll top out at six feet high, and you want to plant it in a location that gets partial sun so it doesn’t scorch.
7. ‘Hot Shot’ (Rhododendron ‘Girard’s Hot Shot’)
This is another azalea variety that offers vivid red flowers when it blooms, and it’s a hybrid in the Girard series. This is a lower growing plant that will do very well if you put it in the middle of a border in your landscape. This is an evergreen azalea, and this means that it’s easy to damage it with winter-type weather and colder temperatures if you don’t take steps to protect it. You want to put it in a sheltered position away from any low-lying troughs and wind that can freeze so it doesn’t kill the plant’s buds.
You should also avoid putting this azalea variety in heavy clay-based soils with poor drainage because it can develop root rot. You also want to prevent the roots from drying out by keeping the soil semi-moist. It’s a nursery hybrid that is a cross between a R. Aladdin and R. El Capitan. It is best planted in zones five to eight, and it tops out at three feet wide and tall. This plant likes partial sun exposure.
8. Korean Azalea (Rhododendron yedoense var. poukhanense)
This is a naturally-occuring azalea type from central and southern Korea instead of being a hybrid from a nursery. It tends to bloom before the foliage has fully emerged, so you get very showy rose-colored flowers with a light scent that is very pleasant. It starts to bloom in the very early spring months, and the darker green foliage that this plant displays will give you a show in the fall when it turns an orangish-red color.
This is a slightly slower growing type of shrub that is wider than it is tall when it reaches full maturity. It likes acidic but rich soil that you keep evenly moist without letting it dry out or saturating it. It’s helpful to put a layer of mulch down to help with water retention and keep the roots cool. It does best when you plant it outside in zones four to nine, and it can get three to six feet tall and six to eight feet wide. You can plant it in a spot that gets full sunlight, but you’ll have to work to keep the soil from drying out or the leaves will scorch.
9. ‘Lemon Lights’ (Rhododendron ‘Lemon Lights’)
This is a cold-hardy azalea type that is a nursery hybrid from the University of Minnesota. As the name suggests, ‘Lemon Lights’ will produce a bloom that is a light yellow shade on the edge of the leaves that slowly turns a deep golden color near the center to provide a nice ombre look. They’re very showy blooms that work well to attract pollinators to the yard, and it’s a slower-growing shrub that will get up to six feet tall at full maturity.
To ensure that this plant does well, you have to keep a close eye on the soil moisture levels, especially when the plant is young. It should be consistently moist without being saturated or drying out. It does best when you plant it in zones four to seven, and it likes partial sunlight. You can lightly prune the shrub to shape it when it finishes blooming for the season to stop it from getting leggy.
10. ‘Mandarin Lights’ (Rhododendron ‘Mandarin Lights’)
The rust-colored and ruffled blooms of this azalea variety will glow when you put it in a dappled shaded area in your landscape. It offers very early blooms that precede the foliage, and it’s a deciduous variety. It looks very pretty when you plant it in a woodland garden, and this is a nursery hybrid that doesn’t have a specific place of origin. The dark green foliage contrasts beautifully with the flowers.
To get this plant to reach the five foot mature height and width, you want to plant it in an area that has moist soil that you enrich with composted leaves or manure to help boost the acidity levels. Make sure that the roots stay moist and cool, especially if it’s in an area that gets more sunlight.
11. Northern Hi-Lights’ (Rhododendron ‘Northern Hi-Lights’)
There are very fragrant, showy blooms on this azalea type that are pale yellow to cream coloring and they offer bright yellow highlights to make them very attractive. The University of Minnesota developed this variety to ensure that it has a very good tolerance to the cold weather, and it also offers resistance to mildew. It likes to be in acidic, humus soil that drains well between watering sessions. It also has to go to a place that gets a minimum of four hours of sunlight every day.
You also want to put this plant in an area that gets protected from stronger winds. When it comes to maintenance, you want to remove any spent flowers to encourage further blooming, and you should water it regularly. It comes from crossing R. prinophyllum and R. canadense, and these are both Exbury azalea varieties. It does well in zones four to seven, and it’ll get between five and six feet tall.
12. Pink-Shell Azalea (Rhododendron Vaseyi)
This azalea variety is unique for a few different reasons when you look at the plant as a whole. Most of the reasons relate back to the blooms. It starts to bloom in April before the foliage comes in, so you end up with a nice show of light pink flowers that cling to bare branches. However, the differentiation doesn’t stop there. It also doesn’t feature a tube as part of the flower anatomy like most other azaleas do. In turn, this changes the look of the flower petals. Instead of having a very visible physical connection, the petals of this flower are almost 100% separate from each other. This can make it easier to pick out this plant.
Additionally, this is a much larger azalea variety that can easily top out at 15 feet tall and 10 feet wide, so you want to leave it space to grow when you plant it. The branches are very thin, and the delicate nature of the branches gives you an irregular and more open form with a limited density, even after the foliage comes in. It likes to have moist soil, and it won’t tolerate drought-like conditions well. Keep the soil acidic, and consider putting down a layer of mulch to help retain moisture. Lastly, it does best when you plant it in zones five to seven.
13. Royal Azalea (Rhododendron Schlippenbachii)
Royal azalea varieties are native to several East Asian countries like China, Korea, and Japan. It works relatively well in cold or warm climates, including anything in zones four to seven. This is a smaller and more compact plant, and it has a rounded form with a spread that is very similar to the height. Knowing this, you can easily plant it closer to the house without worrying about it running out of space as it grows. The flowers are very fragrant, and they bloom right when the foliage emerges in the spring. The flowers can get up to three inches across, and they’re white with pink highlights.
When you compare this variety to other azaleas, you’ll notice that the leaves are larger. They can get up to five inches long, and they can turn red or yellow in the fall months. It tops out at three to five feet tall and wide at full maturity, and it likes to be in a partially shaded location. The soil should be acidic with a medium moisture level that you don’t allow to dry out.
14. Swamp (Rhododendron Viscosum)
This azalea variety lives in a large area that encompasses most of the eastern United States. The range is so large that you can find it growing from Florida to Maine, and it’s a more rounded shrub that can survive standing in water on and off. It also grows best in low lying areas where water tends to collect and pool. Also, this makes the swamp azalea more resistant to root rot when you compare it to other choices, and this can make it slightly easier to manage and care for if you’re a newer gardener.
The flowers are tubular, white, and very fragrant, and they bloom slightly later than most native species in May. The flowers can stay on the plant until mid-summer, and the leaves are a very glossy green color. During the fall, the leaves can turn a range of colors from orange to purple. You should plant them in zones four to nine, and they top out at five feet tall and wide in the right conditions. They like parietal shade with acidic soil, but you can be more lenient with the water requirements.
15. ‘Snow’ (Rhododendron ‘Snow’)
This is a nursery hybrid that gives your trumpet-shaped clusters of bright white flowers during the spring months that contrast sharply with the lush darker green leaves. The foliage will stay the deep green coloring through the winter months if you plant it in zones six to nine. It has a very slow growth rate to it, and this means that you normally won’t have to do any pruning to keep it healthy. If you do need to prune it to shape it to your liking or to remove dead parts, you’ll do so right after it finishes flowering.
This azalea variety is very picky about the planting site, and this makes it slightly more difficult to manage. It has to have acidic but rich soil that is well-draining and evenly moist at all times. It also likes a layer of mulch around the base to keep the soil moist and the roots cooler in the sun. It’ll get up to five feet high and wide, and it should be in an area that gets partial sunlight every day for at least a few hours.
16. Sweet Azalea (Rhododendron Arborescens)
This azalea variety is native to the eastern portion of the United States, and it can grow anywhere from low-lying streams to higher mountain ranges. It’s a very noticeable shrub growing along the Appalachian mountain range, and it’s a great option for anyone who lives in a colder planting zone as it does best in zones four to seven. The flowers on this plant are very fragrant, and they’re primarily white in color. They’ll stay on the plant from early spring until mid-summer before giving way to darker foliage.
There is a very subtle two-tone coloration to this flower, and the pistol is a bright red color. It has a very loose form to it overall, and this azalea variety likes moist soil. The leaves will turn a brilliant red color before they fall off in the autumn months, and it can get between 8 and 20 feet wide and tall at full maturity. It likes to be in partly shaded environments without a huge amount of sunlight, and the soil shouldn’t be allowed to dry out between watering sessions.
17. ‘Variegated Gem’ (Rhododendron ‘Girard’s Variegated Gem’)
The final azalea variety on the list is a great choice for gardeners who want three seasons of interest from their plants. This is a hardy variety of shrub that will offer bright pink flowers during the spring months with whtie-edged summer foliage. When autumn comes, the leaves will turn a brilliant red shade. This is a smaller shrub that doesn’t usually need to be pruned or shaped much outside of cutting away dead or damaged portions.
You should plant it in a place that has shelter from the winds, and you can apply a layer of mulch around the plant’s base to keep the soil moist at all times. This is a complicated hybrid that does best in zones five to eight. It only gets up to two feet tall and wide, so it makes it a nice addition to around your patio or deck.
The Many Advantages of Growing Azaleas
If you want to grow different azalea varieties, you’re going to get a beautiful flower that offers several advantages to the common gardener. We’ve rounded up the most prominent ones below for you.
All of the way up to zone eight, this azalea variety will grow very well. So, roughly half of everyone in North America can grow this plant without running into any problems. As long as you don’t live in a place that gets below -10 degrees Fahrenheit, this plant will do very well to provide interest.
Most Pests Avoid Azalea Plants
There are a few diseases that can ravage your azalea plants, but common garden pests like mites and flies will usually leave your azalea alone. So, you won’t have to worry about insect damage. If you do run into any issues, they’re usually easy to address by using a soil treatment that is easy to apply. Care and maintenance is generally quick and not time-consuming.
Simple Care and Low Maintenance
Once you plant your chosen azalea varieties, they’re generally very easy to care for. However, some pruning can be necessary. They don’t need to have fertilizer to grow, so you have very minimal upkeep.
We’ve outlined 17 beautiful azalea varieties that you can consider if you’re looking to add this showy shrub to your garden lineup. Some are more finicky than others, so you want to try and match the plant to your climate zone and skill level to ensure that you get a happy, healthy, and thriving plant all season long.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.