Autumn Empress Encore® AzaleaRhododendron hybrid 'Conles' (PP# 12,109)
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Rhododendron hybrid 'Conles' (PP# 12,109)
Outdoor Growing zone
Full Sun, Partial Sun, Shade
The Autumn Empress™ Encore® Azalea is a larger evergreen azalea, reaching 4 to 5 feet tall, and so ideal for informal hedges and the center or back of garden beds. Grow it also in woodland areas, where its brilliant pink blooms will shine out across the garden. This plant blooms profusely in April, and then returns to bloom in August, continuing through the fall even into December, until ended by the first frost. Its semi-double flowers are large and bright, with spots and splashes of red inside the funnel of their petals. The very dark green leaves turn attractive shades of bronze in winter. For size, brightness and months of blooms this plant is number one.
The Autumn Empress™ Encore® Azalea should be planted in full sun or light partial shade, to encourage that second fall blooming. It is hardy from warmer parts of zone 6 all the way into zone 10, and it should be planted in rich, moist, well-drained soil. The soil should have a pH between 5.5 and 6.5 – in more alkaline soils grow this plant in a pot, with soil for acid-loving plants. Few if any pests or diseases bother this plant, and it should not be trimmed, as this will reduce either spring or fall blooming, depending on when you trim it.
The Encore® Azaleas have rapidly become garden favorites, for their ability to bloom not only in spring but also from late summer through fall. They have revolutionized azalea growing, turning this spring bloomer into an endless supplier of garden color. Most of them are broad, spreading shrubs that stay lower, but the Autumn Empress™ Encore® Azalea is one of the tallest, growing to nearly 5 feet tall, making it perfect for larger beds and any place you need a taller evergreen plant. Smothered in gorgeous rich-pink blooms, it does indeed have a royal air about it, standing majestically over its smaller neighbors. Not only that, in winter it develops a handsome bronzy look on the foliage, bringing further interest to that quiet season.
The Autumn Empress Encore Azalea is a taller evergreen shrub, in time reaching 4 to 5 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide, with a dense twiggy structure and leafy branches right to the ground. This plant grows 6 to 8 inches a year, so in 5 years your young plant will be at least 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide. The oval leaves are densely packed along the stems, and they are simple ovals, between 1½ and 2 inches long. They are a rich, very dark green, with a soft, slightly hairy upper surface and a lighter-colored, more hairy underside. This evergreen shrub keeps its leaves well in winter, remaining thick and lush, and the dark foliage takes on an attractive bronzy effect, more noticeable in zone 7.
The first flowers of the Autumn Empress Encore Azalea appear in April or May, and this profuse blooming lasts for a full 3 weeks. These flowers come from buds formed the previous fall. After blooming is over the plant produces its new growth, and it is important not to trim or cut those new shoots, because by August flower buds formed on them will be opening, heralding the autumn encore of your plants. Flowering intensifies throughout September and October, and in southern zones into November and even December, before the first frosts bring it to an end. As a bonus, this fall blooming coincides with the migration of butterflies, and these bushes attract a profusion of those wonderful creatures into your garden, where they feed on the nectar the Empress gives them. The blooms are colored a gorgeous rich pink, sparkling bright and clear. A plant in bloom is gorgeous, with clusters of blossoms terminating every stem, and each cluster contains 2 to 3 buds. These open to a large flower, a full 2¼ inches across, shaped like a flaring funnel made of 5 partly-fused petals. They have frilly edges, and inside the flower there are attractive red dots and splashes across the petals. There are between 5 and 10 smaller extra petals of irregular shape inside the funnel, creating a semi-double bloom. Each bloom lasts up to a week, and since they bloom in succession there is a long display of beauty.
Grow the Autumn Empress Encore Azalea as an informal hedge along a pathway, or behind a bed of smaller shrubs. Plant it in open areas in a woodland garden. Use it in Asian-themed garden spaces, and in the corners of courtyards. Plant drifts of them around your home to soften the foundations and bring months of bloom right outside your windows. Grow it in planter boxes and pots – azaleas have fibrous roots and grow well in planters for many years. Wherever you grow it you will love the months of color it brings, not just in spring but in fall, when blossoms are so scarce.
Throughout all the warmer parts of the country, from zone 7 onwards, you can grow the Autumn Empress Encore Azalea. It will also grow in warmer parts of zone 6 in protected areas. It thrives in the humid conditions of the South, as it was created in Louisiana. Like all azaleas it grows best in moist, well-drained soil, and does not tolerate dry conditions. The soil should be acidic, with a pH between 5.5 and 6.5. If you have alkaline soil, don’t despair – grow this plant in a pot, using potting soil blended for acid-loving plants. Unlike most other kinds of azaleas, the Encore Azaleas grow best with plenty of sun, in moist soil. Too much shade will reduce the quantity of fall blooming. Pests and diseases rarely cause any serious problems. Only minimal pruning should be done, as trimming reduces flowering.
Encore Azaleas are the result of the hard work and dedication of the skilled azalea breeder Robert E. “Buddy” Lee from Independence, Louisiana. He has collected many rare azaleas and back in the 1980s he had a variety of the Taiwan azalea, Rhododendron olhamii, called ‘Fourth of July’. This was a special seedling grown from wild-collected seed that tended to bloom in both spring and fall. He used pollen from that plant to pollinate a plant of the Japanese azalea, Rhododendrum indicum, called ‘Macrantha Pink`. Among the resulting batch of seedlings was one that bloomed profusely in fall and had gorgeous large pink flowers. He called it ‘Conles’ and patented it in 2001. He made it part of his Encore® Azalea range and trademarked it as Autumn Empress™. This great plant is perfect if you are looking for a larger azalea, but so are many other people, so our stock will be gone soon. Order now – you won’t regret it when fall arrives.