By Gary Wade
University of Georgia
Admiral Semmes azalea is the result of a hybrid cross between a large-flowered Exbury azalea called "Hotspur Yellow" and the native Florida azalea, Rhododendron austrinum.
It was introduced by Dodd and Dodd Nurseries in Semmes, Ala., and named after Confederate Admiral Raphael Semmes, whose record of 87 ships sunk or captured remains unbroken today.
This fascinating azalea is hardy throughout Georgia and the Southeast. It can take temperatures as low as minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit. It's deciduous, so it's best to use it behind other plants in a perennial border, where it fades into the background in the winter.
Spectacular showIn early May, Admiral Semmes azalea's vibrant yellow flowers appear before its foliage, providing a spectacular show. The tubular, medium-yellow flowers are borne in terminal clusters on the previous season's growth. Its leaves are lustrous, dark green in the summer and turn orange-bronze in the fall.
As with other azaleas, the partial shade of tall trees overhead is the ideal place for your new, yellow azalea. It will adapt to full-sun sites, though. You just need to water it during times when it isn't raining enough.
Admiral Semmes azaleas grow best in moist, well-drained, organic soils with a pH range from 4.5 to 6.0. "Well-drained" is the key. Planting it in places that don't drain well is a sure death sentence.
When you give it good growing conditions, Admiral Semmes azalea will reach 4 to 5 feet tall and equally wide after about 10 years. Prune it to shape it soon after it flowers each year.
It doesn't need a lot of feeding. A well-drained soil rich with organic matter is more important than fertilizer. Lightly apply an azalea-camellia type of fertilizer in the spring. That should be all the plant needs to thrive in your landscape.
(Gary Wade is a Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)