Few shrubs are as captivating in springtime as azaleas. And even fewer have the unique look of Red Ruffles Azalea (Rhododendron simsii ‘Red Ruffles’). With its explosion of vibrant red flowers that hold a frilly surprise, Red Ruffles heralds winter’s end and spring’s beginning even when other flowering perennials are still preparing for their seasonal bloom. And it does it all with a delightfully compact size that won’t overpower small landscapes.
Unique Flowers Compared to Other Types of Azaleas
One look at Red Ruffles Azalea’s dazzling flowers and you’ll immediately see the reason for its name. Each flower petal is outlined with a frilly ruffled edge! And wait ’til you see the sheer size and number of these flowers ‘– 3-inch flowers are packed on the shrubs so densely that you can scarcely see the foliage when Red Ruffles Azalea is in full bloom. The masses of blossoms are extra-showy because many of them are semi-double!
Its Evergreen Appearance Doesn’t Fade
Some types of azaleas are deciduous ‘– they lose their leaves in autumn and winter ‘– but not Red Ruffles Azalea. Even when Red Ruffles is not in bloom, this shrub is a beautiful addition to your landscape design. When the flowers fade in springtime, its dark-green foliage provides a lush evergreen complement to other plants and shrubs in your landscape design.
Packs a Whopper of a Punch in a Compact Size
When we say that Red Ruffles Azalea is a “dwarf” azalea, don’t think we mean “tiny.” In botanical-speak, “dwarf” is a relative term that describes the size of a plant in comparison to related plants in the same group. For example, some native azaleas can grow 15 feet tall; standard-size azaleas can grow 10 feet tall; and mid-size azaleas can grow 6 feet tall. So when you compare these heights to Red Ruffles Azalea, its mature height of 2 to 4 feet is certainly dwarf by comparison. If you love azaleas, but you don’t have room in your smaller landscape for a large azalea specimen with a height potential of 10 to 15 feet, Red Ruffles is the answer!
Window for Hardiness and Flowering Potential
Ref Ruffles Azalea is a flowering shrub that’s adapted for warmer climates. It’s a reliable flowering perennial across USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 8 and 9, but it’s also marginally hardy in Zone 7b when planted in a sheltered location. If you can plant Red Ruffles Azalea as a foundation plant where it is partially protected by your home during cold winters, it typically pushes the winter-hardiness envelope successfully to Zone 7b.
Growing tip: Although Red Ruffles Azalea will grow in climates that are warmer than Zone 9, it may not bloom in those warm climates because it needs a little winter chill to prompt flower buds to form.
A Shade Garden Superstar
If you have a shady landscape (or a shady section in your yard), you know how hard it is to find plants that reliably bloom in shade. And it’s even harder to find a flowering perennial that blooms profusely in shade. Look no further, because Red Ruffles Azalea is a stellar performer in the shade garden! It does like some sun, but it performs best in partial shade or filtered sun/dappled shade. It’s a good understory plant, which means that it’s quite happy growing in the shade of taller shrubs or trees, which let in some sunlight, without being subjected to all-day sun.
Planting Tip: If you have a planting spot in mind that receives a fair amount of sun, you can still grow Red Ruffles Azalea, but you’ll just need to water it more often than if you plant it in a shadier location.
Best in Massed Plantings
Red Ruffles Azalea is a magnificent standalone shrub that adds a lively color pop because of its vivid red flowers. But this is one shrub that is best enjoyed to its fullest potential when grown in a massed planting. As a low-growing flowering hedge, Red Ruffles provides a riot of color in springtime and an evergreen screen year-round. And because it is shallow-rooted, you can confidently plant it as a fabulous foundation shrub that will not damage your home’s structure or outgrow its bounds because its roots do not become invasive.
A Very Easy Container Plant
You can also grow Red Ruffles Azalea as a potted plant. In a container, you can instantly dress up your shady patio or deck simply by adding this colorful shrub. During the non-flowering times of year, it’s the perfect green complement to colorful annuals that are planted in the same pot. Think of adding shade-loving summer flowers, such as impatiens or trailing torenia, to give color to your container creation after Red Ruffles has finished blooming in springtime.
Container tip: Use a rich potting mix that’s specifically packaged for containers and keep your Red Ruffles well-watered, particularly during hot summers.
Drought Tolerance is Better than Most Azaleas
Azaleas are not particularly known for their drought tolerance because they grow best in moist soil. And although we wouldn’t classify Red Ruffles as a highly drought-tolerant plant, it is in the class of azaleas that has a higher threshold of drought tolerance than other azaleas. With that said, you’ll want to keep Red Ruffles thoroughly watered during its first transitional year after being planted in your garden. After that, it can handle short periods of no rainfall before you have to get out the garden hose and start manually watering it.
Three tips for improving Red Ruffles Azalea’s tolerance to drought:
- Plant it in a semi-shady spot.
- Plant it on soil that’s loose and rich in organic matter.
- Apply a 3-inch layer of mulch.
Plant Vigor is Dependent on Healthy Roots
The importance of mulching your Red Ruffles Azalea can’t be overstated. Azaleas have shallow and fibrous root systems, which are prone to drying out faster than deep-rooted perennials. Their roots are located in the top few inches of the soil, making them vulnerable to injury from mowers and string trimmers. Protect the roots and help keep them moist by using an organic layer of mulch, such as finely shredded pine bark or pine needles, to a depth of 3 inches around your plants.
The Importance of Well-Draining Soil and an Insider’s Secret
The goal of keeping Red Ruffles Azalea’s roots hydrated doesn’t mean keeping the soil wet. This plant flourishes in moist soil, but it can rapidly die if kept in soggy soil. Root rot as a result of wet soil is the primary cause of death for many azaleas. And when spring rains are excessive, the soil simply doesn’t drain as fast as during other times of the year. If the native soil in your area is heavy (particularly clay), or if the soil in a particular planting spot just doesn’t drain well, we’ll let you in on an insider’s secret to growing your Red Ruffles successfully ‘– raised beds! If you plant Red Ruffles in a raised bed that you’ve filled with loose soil and finished with mulch, it’s now above grade of the surrounding soil, which allows its roots to stay drier and healthier!
Soil pH and Fertilizer are Also Important
Azaleas prosper in acidic soil with a pH of 4.5 to 6.0. Within this pH range, azalea roots can better absorb iron and other micronutrients that azaleas must have for healthy growth. If your soil is alkaline, the roots cannot absorb sufficient iron (even if iron is present in the soil), and azalea leaves will turn yellow. Your local Cooperative Extension Office can perform a soil test based on a sample that you take to them. This test will determine the soil pH as well as any nutrient deficiencies or excesses. Extension staff can then advise you how to adjust the soil pH, if needed, and which fertilizer to use around your plants. In the absence of a soil test to determine fertilizer needs, use a product that’s labeled for acidic plants, and follow the label directions.
Pruning is Seldom Necessary
If you don’t like pruning your plants, you’ll love Red Ruffles Azalea! You can toss those pruning shears, because this is one shrub that grows naturally into a tidy, mounded shape without needing pruning. If you’d like to trim your plant, however, wait until it has finished blooming and then make a few snips here and there to shape it. And if you pinch the new growth, which emerges after Red Ruffles has finished blooming, you’ll help your plant develop more branches, which means even more flowers the following year!
Pruning tip: Azaleas bloom on the former season’s growth, so if you do any pruning, trim it after it flowers. If you wait until autumn or winter to prune, you’ll be cutting off the developing flower buds and your plant may not flower that spring.
Azaleas sometimes need a little coaxing at planting time to encourage their roots to grow into the surrounding soil. Instead of simply plunking down your Red Ruffles into the planting hole, gently loosen the roots and spread them out, making sure you do not bury the crown as you place your plant into the hole. Give it a deep, thorough drink of water to settle the soil around the roots and it’ll be off to a good start!