Royal azaleas have saucer-shaped pink blooms speckled with reddish brown on their upper petal. (Richie Steffen photo)

Great Plant Pick: ‘Royal Azalea,’ rhododendron schlippenbachii

What: Rhododendron schlippenbachii or “royal azalea,” as its common name suggests, is top class. Its branching structure is shapely and well-balanced, creating a pleasing winter form. Its leaves are held in groups of five, appearing in spring in whorls of pale green flushed with pinkish bronze. As these lovely leaves emerge, its branches are decked with saucer-shaped pink flowers — the exact shade varies depending on the individual plant — that are speckled with reddish brown on their upper petal. In autumn, these rounded leaves turn brilliant orange. Royal azalea is truly a four-season plant. Its elegance and distinctive beauty earn it a spot in every shaded garden.

Size: The plant grows to be 5 feet tall and 6 feet wide.

Where: Royal azalea grows best in light to open shade and protected from hot afternoon sun. Plant it in a site with rich well-drained or sandy soil.

Water: Azaleas are shallow-rooted plants requiring regular watering during dry weather.

— Richie Steffen

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