Earth- Kind® Azalea Trial Established at Bear Creek Office

Autumn Rouge

Autumn Rouge

You are probably aware of the Earth-Kind rose program that was initiated by Texas A&M Agrilife Extension in the mid-late 90’s. Dr. Steve George and fellow A&M researchers started the program by evaluating roses utilizing sustainable growing practices. That program has screened hundreds of roses and has resulted in 27 varieties receiving the Earth-Kind designation.

The objective of Earth-Kind is to combine the best of organic and traditional landscaping principles and practices to create a horticultural system based on real world effectiveness and environmental responsibility. The goals of Earth-Kind include:

  • Landscape water conservation
  • Reduction of fertilizer and pesticide use
  • Landscaping for energy conservation
  • Reduction of landscape wastes entering landfills

In recent years, the trials have expanded to evaluate perennials, shrubs and annuals. While at a national Earth-Kind meeting, Buddy Lee the breeder of Encore® azaleas was in attendance and was interested in trialing some of the Encores under the Earth-Kind protocol.

Earth-Kind azalea trial with 10 varieties and 4 replications per variety.

Earth-Kind azalea trial with 10 varieties and 4 replications per variety.

The trial protocol is quite simple, a soil sample is collected for analysis, the site is amended with  3-6” of compost, drip irrigation is installed and a 3” layer of mulch is added. The plants are watered regularly during their first year of establishment. When that first year is completed, the plants are watered as needed (in roses there is a 30-70% water savings). The site is not amended with fertilizer and no pesticides or fungicides are applied.

Drip irrigation system used for the trial.

Drip irrigation system installed for the trial.

The trial will evaluate 10 re-blooming varieties; 8 Encore® and 2 ReBloom® azaleas (Table 1). The plants will be evaluated for growth, flower production, repeat blooming, drought tolerance, foliage health, insect damage and disease tolerance. Plants will be evaluated monthly from March through October.

Table 1: Trial varieties for Earth-Kind trial

Autumn Sunburst™ Autumn Lily™
Autumn Jewel™ Autumn Rouge™
Autumn Carnation™ Autumn Ivory™
Autumn Royalty™ Coral Amazement™
Autumn Chiffon™ White Nobility™

The trial will last for 3 years to determine if any varieties are worthy of receiving the Earth-Kind designation. I’ll keep you updated on the progress of the trial, or stop by the gardens for a visit to see how the plants are performing.

Special thanks to the following companies and organizations for their donations.

Flowerwood Nursery

Greenleaf Nursery

Harris County Master Gardeners

Bartlett Tree Services

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