Autumn’s Encore

I must begin today by stating that I am far from an azalea fanatic. Once, I declared that I would never grow another besides a grouping of three old Delaware Valley White’s that seemed indestructible. There were problems, lacebugs, clay soil, and diminishing health the longer azaleas were in the ground. Why bother? But, then I was introduced to Encore azaleas, and the possibility of azaleas blooming a second time in late summer and early autumn. Why not give them a try?

At times in the past I favored ‘Autumn Amethyst’ azalea over other rebloomers, but my ardor has faded a bit in recent years. Certainly, pick an azalea that could be flowering in a mild December that still has a fair share of nights below freezing, and that could only be ‘Amethyst’. An azalea with more flowers in November than September, and possibly May? ‘Amethyst’ again.

Autumn Amethyst is just beginning to flower in mid October. Depending on weather, it could continue to flower into December if temperatures do not drop below the mid twenties.

But, an azalea with sparser blooms than other Encores and azaleas in general, no matter the season, and that is also ‘Autumn Amethyst’. So, there’s a pro and a con, and once I valued the late blooms and minimized their scarcity. Now, not so much, though the late flowers remain a plus.

Autumn Sweetheart began flowering sparsely in mid October, but seems to be coming on as the month progresses. I’m guessing it will make a better show than Amethyst, but will not match Twist, Rouge, and Sangria.

A year ago, there were no flowers on ‘Amethyst’ in November. Daring deer not to invade (from forgetfulness or laziness, it doesn’t matter) I delayed spraying the repellent until the damage was already done. Along with daylilies and a few hostas, ‘Amethyst’ was one of the first to go. Every branch tip of two medium sized shrubs was nibbled, and while a few leaves remained, as well as a few buds so that there were a flower or two, the azaleas were pretty sad. And, spring was no better since new leaves had to grow on each branch, which started in late April, and then flower buds developed, which are blooming in early November.

This was a rare down year for Autumn Twist. It began flowering in August, which is typical, but flowers faded quickly, which is unusual. Twist is typically the most dependable and longest bloomer late August through early October.

The variations in how and when Encore azaleas flower is intriguing, and possibly a much wiser gardener could explain why ‘Autumn Twist’ and ‘Autumn Carnation’ begin flowering in August, while ‘Amethyst’ lags until mid October or later. The timetable can move weeks in either direction, depending on summer temperatures, or moisture, or whatever it is that effects the timing, but there are a few months between the first and last to flower. Spring flowering of most all azaleas is compressed into a shorter season, in this garden usually from mid April to the start of May, though that’s moved earlier in recent years.

Autumn Carnation is the most prolific bloomer for a second year, though I am far from thrilled with the color. For those who like this color, Carnation is a very strong grower and a superb bloomer.

Also interesting is why several of the Encores, ones that are plenty cold hardy, do not flower at all in my garden in autumn. There are fat buds that appear ready to open, and each year I figure this will happen any day, and then possibly if mild temperatures hold, but the buds don’t open until spring.

Autumn Fire is the slowest growing Encore in the garden. An earlier planting was too shaded, and this one is too recently planted to determine how good it is. The next Encore to be introduced, Bonfire, is said to have more vigorous growth with a similar red flower.

And, this is why I trialed Encores to try to figure out which ones would perform best in spring and autumn. The test conditions in this garden are far from optimal for a proper evaluation, but I’ve latched onto the few that seem to work best, given my sorry documentation, and varying soil, weather, and sunlight exposures. I wouldn’t claim for a moment that these will work best a mile down the street, or in more or less sun, but this is what works for me.

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