Evergreen azaleas are usually broad and relatively low, but sometimes we need a different form, something more upright, that will bring height to a small space. If that plant is also smothered in deliciously-beautiful pure white blossoms for months of the year, we have a real winner for smaller spaces, or for mass planting in larger ones. If this sounds like a plant that can find a home in your garden, then take a moment to meet the Autumn Moonlight™ Encore® Azalea.
White is such a useful color in the garden, because no matter what other colors you have around it, there can never be any clashes. It magically lifts all other colors to a higher level, brightening and intensifying them, and turning a dull bed into a beautiful vision. As well, white is at its best in late afternoon and on long summer evenings – which is often exactly when we use the garden, after a busy day at work. The calming effect is clear, and it creates a relaxing and yet sophisticated atmosphere. The Autumn Moonlight Encore Azalea will do all that – not just in spring, like other azaleas, but in spring and again in fall, as well as blooming throughout the summer months. Almost no other shrub can offer this, and that is only the beginning.
Growing Autumn Moonlight™ Encore® Azaleas
The Autumn Moonlight Encore Azalea grows quickly into an upright bush, reaching 5 feet tall in time, but staying just 3 or 4 feet across. It is the perfect plant to fill a corner in a partially-shaded part of the garden, such as on a north-facing wall, or in the light shade of deciduous trees. Unlike most other types of evergreen azaleas, Encore Azaleas are very happy to grow in full sun, as well as partial shade. In hot areas some afternoon shade is recommended, and of course a good supply of water is always necessary to grow azaleas.
Plant a single bush in a corner, or group several for a backdrop behind smaller shrubs. Use a row, spaced 2½ feet apart, to make a taller barrier in a narrow space, such as between a path and a fence, and the evergreen foliage is a great way to conceal an old fence, an ugly foundation, or some service equipment, without taking up much vertical room.
The flowers of the Autumn Moonlight Encore Azalea are a perfect, pure white. The flowers are in bunches of 2 to 4, at the ends of all the stems, and they form open funnel-shaped flowers that are semi-double – there are two circles of petals, instead of one. This makes a very full and rich looking flower, a full 2½ inches across. The flowers glisten and glow all over the bush, looking wonderful month after month, with a large display in spring, another in fall, and many more buds opening all summer long.
The leaves of the Autumn Moonlight Encore Azalea are between 1 ½ and 2 inches long, with an oval shape, and a soft surface covered in short hairs. A little lighter in color than most azalea leaves, they brighten the area, even during the few months in winter when the plant is not in flower. The leaves are dense along the branches, making an attractive, bushy plant that is much faster growing than we expect from evergreen azaleas.
After the spring flowering, the plant produces many new shoots, usually between 6 and 8 inches long. Do not trim these branches, as by mid-July they will be producing flowers. Then more stems, adding another 5 or 6 inches, appear, and continue to flower until frost. As the temperatures fall the flower buds become dormant, and then don’t open until the following spring. It is this unusual pattern of growth that keeps your plants blooming and blooming away.
Grow your Autumn Moonlight Encore Azalea in moist, well-drained soil. Just like all azaleas, it grows best in acid soil, with a maximum pH number of 6.5, and preferably lower – 5.5 is ideal. If your soil is neutral, then you can often succeed in growing this plant by using chelated iron, a product you can buy at any garden center. This is applied in spring, before the first new growth emerges, and again in early fall. If new growth is pale green to yellow, then this product will often help. An alternative is to grow your plants in pots, using potting soil for acid-loving plants, and feeding regularly with a liquid azalea food. Make sure your pots have drainage holes, and water thoroughly every time the top ½-inch of soil has become dry.
History and Origins of the Autumn Moonlight™ Encore® Azalea
The Encore Azalea group was developed by Robert E. “Buddy” Lee, from Independence, Louisiana, an azalea expert and breeder. He had a Taiwan Azalea, Rhododendron oldhamii, which is a rare species that flowers in summer and fall. He used it to breed with other azalea varieties to create a whole range of re-blooming azaleas he called the Encore Azaleas. Other people in the area have also selected new plants within this range, and in 2001 James Bryan Berry found a unique shoot growing from an earlier variety Buddy Lee had created, called Autumn Monarch (‘Conleo’). The original plant has bright pink flowers, but this stem had pure-white ones, making it very special and valuable. Mr. Berry called it ‘Mootum’, and in 2008 he was granted a patent on his discovery. The plant was trademarked as Autumn Moonlight.
All of our plants are produced by the original nursery, and they are identical in every way to that original discovery. With its unique upright habit, and profusion of pure-white flowers, the Autumn Moonlight Encore Azalea is in high demand throughout warmer areas. Our stock will not remain available for long, so order your plants now, sit back, and enjoy months and months of flowers – you won’t be disappointed.