Snow Azalea – Classic Kurume

Like Coral Bells, the Snow azalea is one of the classics of the American spring garden. This Kurume variety has one significant drawback (more on those faded flowers later).

Snow Azalea

Snow azalea in the garden. Click for larger.

I love the Snow azalea. Covered with small, pure white blooms that explode out of the landscape, especially in shadier areas or late in the day, Snow is a beacon. Growing 3'-5' tall and wide over the years, Snow has a loosely rounded shape that features smallish dark green leaves and hose-on-hose white blooms without peer for complete coverage of a garden shrub.

snow azalea in bloom

Snow azalea in bloom. Click for larger.

Snow azalea prefers partial shade, but what does this frustratingly generic term 'partial shade' mean? Gardeners are often justifiably confused about partial sun and partial shade plant tags. In the case of azaleas and rhododendrons (and many other plants), the plants need enough sun to stimulate healthy flowering. The challenge is that too much sun will burn and damage leaves, weakening the plant.

snow azalea

We photographed this Snow azalea prior to peak bloom. Many flowers are still in bud stage. Click for larger.

As a good rule, partial shade when describing rhododendrons and azaleas means that if possible site the plants with morning sun and afternoon shade. Another option that can help fulfill the mysterious 'partial shade' requirement is the equally mysterious 'filtered light'.

Azaleas love filtered light, another term for indirect light filtered through a relatively loose canopy of tree limbs overhead. Pines are very good in this regard, and planting azaleas under pine trees is a time-honored garden tradition that works. With life and plants the right balance is everything.

Snow's downfall comes when the flowers fade. Snow's blooms fade to a husky brown and stay that way, slowly drying on the shrub. Plants that drop their blooms cleanly are good citizens in the garden. While the seemingly peerless Snow azalea holds a tight grip on faded flowers, need this flaw be fatal?

It is a question each gardener considering this azalea for their landscape must answer. Is Snow worth it?

One thing I would not recommend is attempting to shear the faded blooms off by pruning. You risk destroying the form of the shrub. Either accept this quality in Snow or look to other options with white azaleas.

snow azalea brown faded flowers

An unfortunate quality of Snow is the brown, faded blooms that last and last on the plant.

About Barrie

Barrie earned both his Bachelor's (1990) and Master's (2006) degrees in landscape architecture from the University of Georgia. His favorite plant is the oakleaf hydrangea.