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Encore series of azaleas reach 31 with Autumn Bonfire and Autumn Fire.

COLOURFUL: Encore Azaleas will bring in an assortment of butterflies like this Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.

By Norman Winter

The Encore series, the best azaleas to ever hit the market now has 31 varieties. With two new riveting red selections Autumn Bonfire and Autumn Fire, you'll have even more choices allowing you to have an encore of spring bloom in the landscape for the long growing season ahead. That is why they're called the Encore Azaleas. There is no more sadness when spring bloom is over because you can rest assured more flowers are on the way. The name Autumn Bonfire itself conjures up visions of warmth and fiery flames of colour in the garden. Autumn Bonfire is dwarf or compact, perfect for today's garden. It reaches 3 feet tall with a spread of 3 feet. The blossoms are semi-double and a true saturated red. Autumn Bonfire not only gives you stimulating colour in the garden, but it is also evergreen retaining the bright green foliage. In other words, it will be an excellent choice giving you the needed bones and structure in the landscape even when not in bloom. Red is a rousing colour that makes you take notice. Stop signs are red, fire trucks are red, and Valentine's chocolates come in bright red boxes. The new Autumn Fire has much the same habit, and colour but semi-double blossoms that are rich and velvety. The foliage will give extra garden interest however as it ages to a purple-bronze in the winter. The 31 varieties all fall under the Encore brand but there is another name that ties them all together, and that is Autumn. The reason behind this is that sometime in the fall depending on the variety chosen there will be another crescendo of bloom. So, consider the possibilities, imagine Encore azaleas blooming in sequence with the fall blooming Camellia sasanqua. It can happen with just a little planning. I love digital photography, not only because it makes me look like a pro but also because the technology allows the photograph to be like a diary. It tells me everything I did in that particular photograph including the date. The last four years the azalea photographs tell a story. They tell me that the Encore bloom at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens in Savannah looked dazzling on March 3 and similarly September 15. But there are stunning photographs on New Year's Eve, October, and late March. These azaleas were bred to bloom. They also show a propensity, if you will, to attract butterflies. Many of the Encore azaleas are cold hardy from zones 6a-10b and perform best in organic-rich, well-drained soil. It's been said the key to the green thumb is how brown it gets in soil preparation. Compost and organic matter improves tight, heavy soil allowing for best drainage. Add a layer of mulch after planting and again each year. The azalea keeps the roots near the soil surface, and this annual decomposition of mulch and organic matter will maintain a good environment for new roots and help in moisture retention. Choose a site with 4 to 6 hours of direct sunlight. Partial sun gardens with high shifting sunlight will also prove to be an optimal location. Plant curvy informal sweeps or clusters. With 31 varieties you will find a wide range of colours and sizes from dwarf to intermediate. You'll find double blooming selections like Autumn Carnation, those that have an almost iridescent shimmer like the pink Autumn Jewel to the pristine white Autumn Angel. It may be cold now, but spring is just around the corner, start planning now and as the weather allows use the time to get your beds prepared for Encore azalea planting at your home. - TNS

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Publication:Gulf Times (Doha, Qatar)
Date:Feb 4, 2018
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