Illustration by Ben Hillyer
Illustration by Ben Hillyer

Cold winter may spur vibrant azalea color display

Published 12:02am Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The pop of pink and purple azaleas is a beloved staple of Natchez’s landscape, especially during Spring Pilgrimage, and experts say even the recent snow and ice shouldn’t keep the hardy shrubs from blooming this year.

Dan Gill, an associate professor of consumer horticulture with the LSU AgCenter, said temperature is a more important factor than snow and ice on azaleas.

Azaleas are considered cold-weather hardy to temperatures as low as 10-15 degrees, Gill said. Temperatures lower than that may damage azaleas.

“This winter has been unique because of the amount of cold we have had rather than the severity of the cold,” Gill said. “None of us have seen 30-year record temperatures or anything, but we have seen records of how many hours we experienced the cold.”

That extended cold weather could be a “saving grace” for azaleas.

“The (prediction) here in southeast Louisiana is that, ‘Oh, it’s going to be a beautiful year (for azaleas) because we got so many hours of cold,’” Gill said. “There may actually be a positive impact rather than a real negative impact.”

County Supervisor David Carter, a member of the Adams County Master Gardeners, said he inspected some azaleas Monday and did not see any damage.

“I think we’re still going to be just fine,” he said. “If we had a deep freeze three weeks from now, then there may be some concerns.”

Anne MacNeil said she has not closely inspected the azaleas at her home at Elms Court, but said from a distance they look normal. MacNeil added she is not worried about her azaleas failing to bloom during Pilgrimage, which runs from March 8 until April 8.

“Last year, my azaleas bloomed in February, and we had a hard freeze just before Spring Pilgrimage, and they came back, so I’m not as worried as I would be having had that experience (last year),” MacNeil said.

Ideal weather for azaleas to bloom, Gill said, is when high temperatures are in the 60s and low temperatures around 40s.

“The flowers last longer in that weather,” he said.

Gill said said bark splitting and cracking is the main symptom that indicates cold-weather damage to azaleas. The plants may also appear to be burned or scorched, Gill said, if they have experienced cold-weather damage.

Carter said he expects the azaleas in Natchez will bloom without any major issues for Spring Pilgrimage.

“I expect beauty as always,” he said.