This is one of those not so rosy posts about gardening plants. Yes, I occasionally throw some in. I purchased two 'Autumn Chiffon' Encore Azaleas from the clearance rack at Lowes last summer. I was very excited as these two large azaleas were so drastically marked down that I paid only a few dollars for them. But, getting a good buy is not such a good thing if they don't do well and earn their spot in the garden. This has been the case with these two Encores.
First of all let me say that I already knew of the bad reputation Encore Azaleas have as far as cold hardiness. One of my classmates in horticultural school worked for a large nursery in Nashville. She told me the nursery owner refused to carry Encore azaleas because they are not reliably cold hardy, even to their rated zones.
For the record, Encore azaleas are rated as cold hardy in Zones 7-9, and in Zone 6 with protection. I am on the edge of Zone 6/7. I grow a few ornamentals that are not rated as cold hardy to my zone, yet they do well. Some are: camellias, and daturas. The banana I grow is rated as root hardy to my zone so that really doesn't count. At any rate, I theorized that with the world getting warmer and with the right spot for these azaleas they would do well. I was right. All last summer the azaleas grew and looked so good! They actually sporadically bloomed too. I was very excited about their bloom this spring. This excitement lasted right up to around February. It was at this point the azaleas took a nose dive, and it was a rather sudden nosedive too.
I kept looking at them trying to see if any buds were forming when I finally noticed the azaleas were pretty much all brown. Browning is not a big deal in the winter, as evergreens tend to get a bit frostbitten, but usually they recover quickly when it warms up. I did not pay much attention to the azaleas at this point since it was still cold. You know everything looks brown in the winter anyhow. But now that it is spring and warm weather has arrived I expected to see new growth on this azalea-green growth. Look closely, it is not there. No recovery seems to be in the near future for these guys.
I have pruned the dead areas out of the two azaleas and am hoping for the best. These azaleas may yet bloom but I am just not sure the Encores live up to their names and I would caution folks in my growing area to plant them with care. There are far better azaleas that will not give the gardener more gray hair-she has enough already!
I will hold out and hope these azaleas still bloom this spring, but it's not looking too good. Since they are planted in a sheltered area and well mulched, I think they will recover sufficiently this season so that they may even bloom this summer. Not sure, but since the Autumn Chiffons are not in the way and are set in a good spot, I'll keep them around a bit longer, but I will not hope for an 'Encore' from them anymore.
There is an awful lot of talk on the subject of Encore hardiness ratings. As for me, I think my friend's boss was right not to carry the Encores and I will not buy anymore, no matter how marked they down are....
in the garden....
April 2009: This post gets hits at least once per week and sometimes many hits each day of the week! I can see there are many other folks having trouble with the hardiness of the Encore azaleas. I'd like to be sure you all see my second post on my Encores because they DID bounce back after another growing season. I will again update my experience on my Encores after this season (2009-2010); which has been very cold-but normal for my Zone 6B garden. Stay tuned and check back later. Also, you might click on the label "Encore Azaleas" on my sidebar so you can read ALL the posts on the Encores. Hang tough with yours! Thanks. tina
Update 15 Februay 2011: My Encores bounced back again in 2010 and bloomed beautifully. My conclusion with growing my two Encores here in my Zone 6B garden is that this is a plant that should be planted in the spring. Additional protection from dessication might not be a bad idea either.