Rhododendrons and Azaleas have long been the go-to plant for northwest gardens. They love it here, so it’s an easy choice.
There is a large group of them however that has been overlooked for years; the ones that lose their leaves in winter. Dramatic flower color and sweet perfume, lovely fall leaves and self-sufficiency are some of their best qualities. Plus they thrive in sunshine while their evergreen relatives burn.
Many of the plants listed below were bred from Azaleas that are native to the United States. Knapp Hill Nursery, Goldsworth Old Nursery and Exbury began to hybridize in the late 1800s using Rhododendron calendulaceum and Rhododendron arborescens (both native to eastern U.S.), Rhododendron occidentale (native to the Pacific Northwest), and Rhododendron molle (native to China). Many of their hybrids are still sold today. Locally Ivan and Robertha Arneson used those hybrids to breed new Azaleas into the 1990’s. Arneson Azlaeas are now some of the best and most popular on the market.
The Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden near Reed College is a wonderful place to see deciduous rhododendrons in bloom in spring.
Bright red flowers, fuzzy red-tinged new leaves turn green in summer and maroon in autumn. Grows 3’ x 4’. Zone 5.
Red flower buds open to yellow-orange flowers w/ red edges, disease resistant leaves, maroon color in autumn. Grows to 3’ x 4’. Zone 5.
Cream, gold and pink double(many petals) flowers. New leaves have a bronze cast & turn green in summer. Upright, open & airy growth to 5’ x 6’. Hardy Z5.
Slender & elegant white flowers with intense sweet fragrance and frosty blue-green leaves that turn orange and red in fall. Grows to 4’ x 4’. Hardy Zone 5.
Red flower buds, deep orange flowers w/ gold tinge on the upper lobe. Leaves are mildew resistant. Grows to 4’ x 4’.
Orange flower buds open to gold flowers. New leaves are tinged with bronze and turn green in summer. Grows to 4-6’ tall, 3-5’ wide, Zone 5.
Red-orange flower buds open to only slightly lighter orange flowers. Grows to 5’ x 4’. The ‘Lights’ series is more cold tolerant than other Deciduous Azaleas, hardy to Zone 4.
Bright orange flowers with hints of gold and apricot have petals with frilled edges, much like the border of a fancy parasol. Grows to 4’ x 4’.
White flowers with a strong yellow blotch on the upper petal. Blooms at the same time that leaves appear, a bit later than others. Grows to 4’ x 3-4’, Hardy to Z4
Native to Florida, Georgia, Alabama & Mississippi – Flower color varies on plants in the wild that grow from seedlings. Clear yellow, cream orange to red flowers are fragrant and open in April-May. Cultivated varieties are propagated from cuttings, so flower color is more predictable. Green leaves. Grows to 8-10’ tall in an upright open shape. Hardy Z7
Native to Oregon and California coastal areas – Flower color varies on plants found in the wild, or in plants grown from seeds. White, pale pink, yellow to orange or combinations of all of these colors are common. Flowers have a sweet honeysuckle-like scent and bloom in mid April to early May. Leaves are green and turn yellow, orange and red in fall. Growth is more compact than many other deciduous Azaleas, to about 3-5’ with a more dense shape. Hardy to -5f.
Native to eastern Europe & southwest Asia – Tubular yellow flowers with delicious fragrance bloom in early May, and leaves are a fresh bright green. Grows 4-5', but can grow up to 8-10’ given time. Hardy Z5.
Native to North China, North Japan, Korea, Manchuria & Mongolia - The first rhododendron to bloom in late winter-spring, just after witch hazels. Flowers are mauve pink, but several cultivars with differing flower colors are available, the most popular being ‘Cornell Pink’, with bubblegum pink flowers. In SE Portland there are some Rhododendron mucronulatum prominently set at the edge of Laurehurst Park along Caeser Chavez Boulevard that always draw a lot of attention when in bloom. Leaves are green and plants grow to 4-8’ tall and wide with an open upright shape. Hardy Z4.
Read up on some of our favorite shrubs and remember, this is only a smattering of the variety of shrubs we carry all year long! Note: Viewing a Native Plant will take you into our Native Plant section.