Updated: Mar 26
The only difference between deciduous azaleas and the more popular rhododendron is the number of stamens (5 versus 10) and the fact that the former sheds its leaves in fall. Botanically, both are technically rhododendrons, and yet every spring I watch the spectacle of gardeners enthusiastically combing through the rhododendron beds while totally ignoring the nearby deciduous azaleas. And yet if those same people were to envision the vibrant orange, yellow and pink blossoms yet to come, often coupled with enticing fragrance, then I’m quite sure that the opposite would be true. So here is a description of some of the better cultivars and species of deciduous azaleas, keeping in mind that they can be hard to find at times.
‘Arneson Gem’ (Exbury)
A fragrant hybrid with vivid red buds that open to golden-yellow blooms with apricot-orange margins, held in a full truss of 10-15 flowers. Grows 3-5’ tall, blooms mid-April into May, and has reddish-orange autumn foliage. Zone 5.
‘Strawberry Ice’ (Knaphill)
This showy cultivar bears large peachy-pink blooms accented with a yellow blotch. It grows 4-6’ tall and flowers from May into June with very large trusses. Zone 5.
The semi-double rose-pink blossoms form a distinctly spherical truss that is easily recognized at a distance. It is also an Award of Garden Merit winner, mildew resistant, and emanates a sweet fragrance on warm days. Begins blooming in late May and grows 4-6’ tall. Zone 5.
‘Northern Hi-Lights’ (Northern Lights Series)
This group of azaleas was bred in Minnesota for cold hardiness with this particular cultivar bearing abundant creamy-white blooms accented with a bright yellow blotch. The fragrant flowers are followed by burgundy-red autumn foliage on this vigorous, mildew-resistant variety that grows 4-5’ tall. Zone 3.
This Award of Garden Merit winner is probably the most sought-after deciduous azalea with its intensely orange, frilled blooms that emerge from red buds. They are lightly scented and open from April to May, with the ultimate height ranging from 4-6’ tall. Zone 5.
‘King’s Red’ (Exbury)
A rare pure red cultivar with ruffled blooms held in rounded trusses of 11-14 flowers. It is a mid to late-season bloomer that grows 5-6’ tall at maturity. Zone 5.
‘Fragrant Star’ (Modern Hybrid)
A cultivar that actually lives up to its name as this is considered one of the most fragrant deciduous azaleas. Expect masses of funnel-shaped white blooms in mid-spring, followed by attractive bluish-green foliage. Grows 4-5’ tall and hardy to zone 5.
Rhododendron luteum (Species Rhododendron)
Also known as Azalea Pontica, this hard-to-find azalea (with 5 stamens) bears potently fragrant bright yellow blooms in May. It is a native of Europe and Southeast Asia with fiery autumn foliage and an ultimate height of 8’ plus without pruning. Zone 5.
‘Antilope’ (Viscosum Hybrid)
This cross of Rhododendron viscosum and Azalea ‘Koster’s Brilliant Red’ produced a late-blooming (May-June) hybrid with sweetly fragrant salmon-pink flowers accented with a hint of yellow. It is an AGM winner that was bred back in 1938 and grows 4-6’ tall. Zone 5.
‘Daviesii’ (Ghent Hybrid)
A sweetly fragrant deciduous azalea with creamy-white blooms and contrasting yellow spotting. This cross of Rhododendron viscosum and R. molle is somewhat shorter in stature (4-5’ tall) and is an RHS Award of Garden Merit winner. Zone 5.
‘Old Gold’ (Exbury)
This hybrid produces iridescent golden-yellow blooms that emerge from red buds from May to June, held in a rounded truss. The mid-green leaves flush with a hint of bronzing on the edges, with orange to red autumn tones. Grows 5-8’ tall. Zone 5.
‘Irene Koster’ (Occidentale Hybrid)
An RHS Award of Garden Merit winner which features striking striped buds that open to sweetly fragrant light rose-pink flowers with a prominent yellow blotch. It blooms in May and has yellow to red autumn foliar tones with an ultimate height of 6-8’. Zone 6.
Rhododendron schlippenbachii (Species Rhododendron)
The Royal Azalea is a deciduous rhododendron native to Korea, Japan, and China. It bears highly fragrant pink-tinged white flowers (with light red spotting) from April to May, just as the leaves are emerging. This species also has beautiful autumn foliage, prefers partial shade, and grows 5-7’ tall. Zone 5.
‘Cannon’s Double’ (Exbury)
This RHS AGM winner features lightly scented double flowers of pale apricot-pink that emerge from deep rosebuds in May and June. It also develops bronze autumn foliage and grows 6’ tall. Zone 5.
One of the best deciduous azaleas with intense golden-orange flowers (red reverse), which emerge in May. The highly fragrant blooms are nicely complemented by the emerging bronze-green foliage, which shifts to maroon in the fall. Grows 5’ tall. Zone 5.
‘Golden Lights’ (Northern Lights Series)
An extremely cold-hardy cultivar with abundant peachy-yellow (fragrant) blooms in May. It is reasonably compact, growing 3-5’ tall at maturity. Zone 3.
‘Mount Saint Helens’ (Girard Hybrid)
This cross of R. ‘Cecile’ and an unnamed Knaphill azalea bears large trusses of fragrant bright pink blooms with an orange flare. Flowers from May to June and features purplish autumn tones. Grows 5-7’ tall and hardy to zone 4.
A cross of ‘Hugh Wormald’ and ‘Marion Merriman’ which bears large bright yellow blooms accented with a pale orange blotch from late May into June. It transitions to burgundy-red foliar tones in fall and grows 5-6’ tall. Zone 5.
Deciduous Azalea Care Checklist
Pruning – Immediately after flowering, cutting to one of the many dormant buds along the stem.
Fertilize – After flowering, using a Rhododendron & Azalea fertilizer, which will also acidify the soil.
Exposure – Part to full sun in coastal BC, with more irrigation in full sun exposures.
Air Circulation – Proper spacing and air circulation will keep fungal problems, such as powdery mildew, to a minimum.
Soil Moisture – Even soil moisture that readily drains is best as these plants are shallow-rooted. Mulch exposed roots for winter.
Copyright 2021 MK Lascelle