Blooming Bonsai!

azalea by walter pallSome azaleas and rhododendrons occasionally bloom twice – in the fall, as well as spring, depending upon the weather. For years, breeders have been trying to amplify this repeat bloom trait to achieve azaleas and rhododendrons that will bloom reliably every fall and spring. We have trialed several of these fall blooming azaleas and the results here in Zone 6 have been disappointing, although our trials continue and we have high hopes for one new variety which we are just starting to evaluate. However, we happened upon one deciduous azalea, with no reputation for reblooming, that blooms for us reliably every fall and spring year after year. This week we are featuring that azalea, the Northern Lights hybrid ‘Lemon Lights.’

Beginning about 20 years ago, The University of Minnesota began developing a new super hardy series of deciduous azaleas called Northern Lights. Their goal was to allow gardeners in colder areas to enjoy azaleas in their gardens. This series is also known for being extremely floriferous, putting on a stunning floral show in late spring. Coincidentally, a few cultivars in the series turned out to be quite fragrant and foliar fungus resistant.

‘Lemon Lights’ has striking two-toned lemon yellow flowers which are lighter at the outer edges of the petals and deeper at the throats. The flowers emit a powerful sweet citrus fragrance. The dark, glossy foliage has excellent resistance to powdery mildew and provides a beautiful contrast to the clear yellow blooms. Fall foliage color is maroon bronze. Expect ‘Lemon Lights’ to reach 5-6 feet tall and 4 feet wide.

Planting and Care

Deciduous azaleas prefer more sun than evergreen azaleas, although they do best with some protection from the hottest afternoon sun. When planting ‘Lemon Lights,’ select a site with almost full sun to light shade that has well-drained, acidic soil. Azaleas have a very shallow, fibrous root system and can dry out rapidly. For that reason, be sure to water during dry periods and hot summer days.

  • Does best in an area with well-drained soil in full sun to light shade.
  • Do not plant too deeply; place the top of the root mass level with the soil surface. Dig a shallow hole and backfill around the plant with equal parts mixture of organic compost and the existing soil.
  • Until established, do not allow the soil to dry out.
  • Fertilize with Kelp Meal when planting and again every year in early spring and late fall.
  • Hardy in zones 4-7.
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    1. Could you give me some bonsai formulas for basic soil, free draining, and soil for acid loving plants such as azaleas, gardenias, etc as well as junipers?
      Thank You

    2. Hi David

      I have some Azalea bonsai and I use the following mixture:

      1 part loam, 2 parts sand and 5 parts peat. Sometimes on the base of a pot I will add a rusty nail. The trees seem to like this. Oh loam is a mixture of sand and clay.

      Another trick for creating great humus rich soil is to dig up some grass sods and lay them grass side down. Stack them on top of each other. Over time these will break down to produce brilliant soil.

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