Sooper Dooper Azalea

Gorgeous golden-orange blooms. Knock-you-down sweet fragrance. Loves our Southern heat and humidity. Takes full sun and tolerates drought. That's the basic description for for a great azalea in my back yard, called 'Aromi Sunrise.'

I bought this plant at a garden center in a 2-gallon pot about 6-7 years ago. It's now about 6 feet tall and never fails to put on an eye-popping show. Even my wife, Judy, noticed it this year, which astonished me, since she usually passes through the garden muttering, "Plants, plants, plants. Yeah, yeah, yeah."

This particular azalea was created by Dr. Gene Aromi, a retired educator at the University of South Alabama in Mobile. For years, he'd tried growing the spectacular Exbury hybrid azaleas that come from England. But the Deep South's heat always did those azaleas in. So he decided to cross them with our native, heat tolerant Florida flame azalea (Rhododendron austrinum) and Piedmont azalea (R. canescens). The results of his work were a number of outstanding deciduous azaleas that are both cold-hardy and heat-tolerant.

'Aromi Sunrise' Azalea

Other selections of the Aromi Series include 'Sunny Side-Up' (golden-yellow with a darker yellow blotch) and 'Sunstruck' (pale yellow with a dark yellow blotch). The Confederate Series hybrids, another heat-tolerant group from south Alabama, has similar characteristics. Its most popular selection is 'Admiral Semmes" (yellow flowers with a deep yellow blotch).

Growing these azaleas is easy. Give them fertile, acid, well-drained soil that contains lots of organic matter. And make sure they get at least a half-day of sun. They won't bloom well in shade. Expect them to eventually grow 10-12 feet tall.

Look for both Aromi and Confederate azaleas in local garden centers. That's where I found mine. If yours doesn't have them, picket them until they do. Rare Find Nursery is a good mail-order source.

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