Rhododendrons and Azaleas have long been the go-to plant for northwest gardens. They love it here, so it’s an easy choice.

There is a large group of them however that has been overlooked for years; the ones that lose their leaves in winter. Dramatic flower color and sweet perfume, lovely fall leaves and self-sufficiency are some of their best qualities. Plus they thrive in sunshine while their evergreen relatives burn.

Many of the plants listed below were bred from Azaleas that are native to the United States. Knapp Hill Nursery, Goldsworth Old Nursery and Exbury began to hybridize in the late 1800s using Rhododendron calendulaceum and Rhododendron arborescens (both native to eastern U.S.), Rhododendron occidentale (native to the Pacific Northwest), and Rhododendron molle (native to China). Many of their hybrids are still sold today. Locally Ivan and Robertha Arneson used those hybrids to breed new Azaleas into the 1990’s. Arneson Azlaeas are now some of the best and most popular on the market.

The Difference between Azaleas and Rhododendrons

  • All Azaleas are members of the genus Rhododendron.
  • Deciduous Azaleas are in the subgenus Pentanthera,
  • Evergreen Azaleas are in the subgenus Tsustusti.
  • All Azaleas are elepidotes; they never have scales on the bottom side of their leaves.
  • Azaleas one stamen per flower lobe - Rhododendrons have two stamens per lobe.
  • Azaleas have hairs on their leaves that grow parallel to the leaf surface.

The Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden near Reed College is a wonderful place to see deciduous rhododendrons in bloom in spring.

Some of our favorite Azaleas:

Azalea 'Arneson Gem'

Azalea 'Arneson Gem'

Red flower buds open to yellow-orange flowers w/ red edges, disease resistant leaves, maroon color in autumn. Grows to 3’ x 4’. Zone 5.

Azalea 'Cannon's Double'

Azalea 'Cannon’s Double'

Cream, gold and pink double(many petals) flowers. New leaves have a bronze cast & turn green in summer. Upright, open & airy growth to 5’ x 6’. Hardy Z5.

Azalea 'Fragrant Star'

Azalea 'Fragrant Star'

Slender & elegant white flowers with intense sweet fragrance and frosty blue-green leaves that turn orange and red in fall. Grows to 4’ x 4’. Hardy Zone 5.

Azalea 'Gilbraltor'

Azalea 'Gibraltar'

Red flower buds, deep orange flowers w/ gold tinge on the upper lobe. Leaves are mildew resistant. Grows to 4’ x 4’.

Azalea 'Klondyke'

Azalea 'Klondyke'

Orange flower buds open to gold flowers. New leaves are tinged with bronze and turn green in summer. Grows to 4-6’ tall, 3-5’ wide, Zone 5.

Azalea 'Mandarin Lights'

Azalea 'Mandarin Lights'

Red-orange flower buds open to only slightly lighter orange flowers. Grows to 5’ x 4’. The ‘Lights’ series is more cold tolerant than other Deciduous Azaleas, hardy to Zone 4.

Azalea 'Northern Lights'

Azalea 'Northern Hi-Lights'

White flowers with a strong yellow blotch on the upper petal. Blooms at the same time that leaves appear, a bit later than others. Grows to 4’ x 3-4’, Hardy to Z4

Western Azalea Rhododendron occidentale

Rhododendron occidentale: Western Azalea

Native to Oregon and California coastal areas – Flower color varies on plants found in the wild, or in plants grown from seeds. White, pale pink, yellow to orange or combinations of all of these colors are common. Flowers have a sweet honeysuckle-like scent and bloom in mid April to early May. Leaves are green and turn yellow, orange and red in fall. Growth is more compact than many other deciduous Azaleas, to about 3-5’ with a more dense shape. Hardy to -5f.