Rhododendron Varieties: 10 Of The Best Azaleas and Rhododendrons For Your Garden

Last Updated: September 12, 2023

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When it comes to the best Rhododendron varieties for your garden, there’s certainly no shortage of contenders. But which plants should you choose? Here’s a look at some of the most popular varieties – and why you might want to add them to your garden.

4 pictures of flowering Rhododendrons withthe text "best Azalea and Rhododendron varieties"

Every time I go through my garden to take pictures, I realize that I’m a bit of a plant hoarder. If I like a particular species of plant, I collect a lot of them!

And Rhododendrons (including Azaleas) are one of those shrubs that I love to have in my garden…beautiful blooms, many are evergreen and like shade, some are fragrant, and all are easy to maintain. For me, they are the perfect plant!

So having grown a lot of them, I do have some favorite Azalea and Rhododendron Varieties, and I thought I would share my list in case you are looking to add to your Rhododendron collection as well.

1 | Best large Rhododendron variety – Rhododendron catawbiense

Rhododendron catawbiense wtih light purple flowers

Zone: 4 to 8
Exposure: Part shade to shade
Height: 8′ to 12′ high
Width: 6′ wide
Bloom time: spring
Flower color: purple, white, pink

Rhododendron catawbiense are the variety that I grew in my first garden, and it turns out they’re a good variety to start with.

They are evergreen with dark green leaves and large balls of bell-shaped flowers in the spring.

And they’re pretty hard to kill!

Rhododendron catawbiense with purple flowers

My favorite ones have purple flowers, but you can also get them in pink and pure white.

In fact the American Rhododendron Society describes these Rhododendrons as “iron clad”. I think that’s about as tough as it gets 🙂

Make sure to put them in a spot where they have room to spread out, as they can get quite big over time.

They also come in a whole range of colors so you should be able to find one you like.

Buy them HERE.*

2 | Best dwarf Rhododendron – ‘PJM’ Rhododendron

PJM Rhododendron blooming in a garden with tulips

Zone: 4 to 9
Exposure: part shade to sun
Height: 2′ to 4′ high
Width: 2′ to 4′ wide
Bloom time: spring
Flower color: pink, purple

The ‘PJM’ Rhododendron is a compact variety that is also quite easy to grow and does better in full sun that most Rhododendrons.  

It has evergreen leaves and lavender flowers, and provides structure to a perennial border.

Buy it HERE.*

3 | Best Variegated Foliage – Bollywood Azalea

Zone: 5 to 9
Exposure: part shade, sun
Height: 18″ to 24″
Width: 24″ to 30″
Bloom time: spring
Flower color: deep pink

The Bollywood Azalea is another dwarf Rhododendron variety that works well in the garden border.

I recently found this compact, variegated Azalea while I was browsing plant pictures online. And I just had to have it.

I had never heard of a variegated Azalea so I wasn’t sure how it would turn out. But I’m happy to report that it is doing very well in my garden!

You can find it HERE.*

4 | Best Cold Weather Plant – Northern Lights Azaleas

Rosy Lights Azalea with pink flowers
© Nick Taurus – stock.adobe.com

Zone: 3 to 7 (although some gardeners report growing them in zone 2)
Exposure: sun, part shade
Height: 6′ tall
Width: 4′ wide
Bloom time: spring
Flower color: pink, white, yellow

The Northern Lights azaleas were bred at the University of Minnesota specifically to withstand cold temperatures.

They are deciduous azaleas with pretty spring flowers that may be fragrant (depending on the cultivar) and have leaves that turn bright red in the fall.

With so many things going for them, I think they shouldn’t just be relegated to the cold 🙂

Buy them HERE.*

5 | The Best Re-Blooming Bushes – Encore Azaleas

Zone: 6 to 9
Exposure: sun to part shade
Height: 3′ to 5′ tall
Width: 3′ to 5′ wide
Bloom time: spring and fall
Flower color: pink, white, red, purple

Encore Azaleas are a relatively new group of evergreen bushes that bloom twice every year…once in the spring and once in the summer to late fall.

There are many cultivars available with different tones of pink flowers. But they are also available in white, red and purple.

Although Encore Azaleas are usually advertised as a bush that should be planted in full sun, I have them growing in all conditions – full shade, part shade and full sun, and they seem to do quite well everywhere!

large Encore Azalea blooming in the garden

And as you can see from the picture, they can get bigger than 5 feet tall and wide (which is the height the label usually specifies). That arbor in the background is 8′ high.

You can find it HERE.*

There are also some newer re-blooming Azaleas called the “Bloom-A-Thon” series, which have some double flowered cultivars.

I haven’t tried them yet, but they’re on my list!

Find them HERE.*

6 | Showiest Blooms – Amelia Rose Azalea

Zone: 7 to 9
Exposure: part shade
Height: 3′ to 6′
Width: 3′ to 6′
Bloom time: spring
Flower color: pink-purple

The blooms on the Amelia Rose Azalea are so big and full, they almost look like roses.

Except they grow on an evergreen shrub that doesn’t have any thorns!

Plant these Rhododendrons in moist, acidic soil that is rich in organic matter. Mulch well to keep the roots cool and maintain the soil moisture.

Amelia rose azalea with rose-like flowers

These Azaleas can be a little hard to find, but I think they’re definitely worth the search!

You can find it HERE.*

7 | Most Fragrant – Rhododendron colemanii

Rhododendron colemanii with pink buds and fully open white and yellow flowers

Zone: 6 to 9
Exposure: shade to part shade
Height: 6′ to 8′ tall
Width: 5 ‘ to 6’ wide
Bloom time: early to mid spring
Flower color: white, yellow, pink

This deciduous Azalea is a native to the Southeastern United States and has the most beautiful scent.

It also has really pretty flowers that start out as pink buds and then open to be white and yellow blooms.

Buy it HERE.*

8 | Best orange variety – Rhododendron ‘Gibraltar’

Rhododendron 'Gibraltar' with orange flowers

Exposure: full sun, part shade
Height: 4′ to 5′
Width: 4′ to 5′
Bloom time: spring to early summer
Flower color: orange

The Gibraltar Azalea has brilliant orange funnel-shaped flowers that will light up your garden.

It is such an amazing variety that it has been given both the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society and the Rhododendron of the Year award from the American Rhododendron Society.

Although it works well in the garden border, you can also plant Rhododendron ‘Gibraltar’ in containers on the patio if you prefer.

9 | Best blue (or dark purple) Rhododendron – Rhododendron ‘Blue Baron’

Rhododendron 'Blue Baron' with purple-blue flowers
© Mallivan – stock.adobe.com

Zone: 5 to 8
Exposure: part shade
Height: 3′ to 6′
Width: 3′ to 4′
Bloom time: mid spring
Flower color: light to dark purple-blue

Although there really isn’t a true blue Rhododendron, ‘Blue Baron’ comes as close as you can get.

It has large purple-blue flowers that start out as a darker color then get lighter as they age.

Buy it HERE.*

10 | Best red variety – Rhododendron ‘Nova Zembla’

red flowers of Rhododendron 'Nova Zembla'

Zone: 4 to 8
Exposure: part shade to shade
Height: 4′ to 5′
Width: 4′ to 5′
Bloom time: mid spring
Flower color: red

‘Nova Zembla’ is an easy to grow Rhododendron with bright red flowers that contrast well against the dark green leaves.

It’s a woodland native that makes a great foundation plant and the brightly-colored flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds.

One of the most popular varieties around!

Buy it HERE.*

That’s the list of my favorite Azalea and Rhododendron varieties.  Hopefully you have found one or two you want to add to your own garden.

More Rhododendron Information You Might Like

Have any questions or comments on or best Rhododendron varieties? Tell us in the comments below.

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purple-flowered Rhododendron with the text "the best Azalea & Rhododendron varieties" on the top

This post was originally published on July 18, 2017 but was updated with new content on September 12, 2023.

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  1. cbent1708 says:

    My fav. is an Azalea called Occidential. Would you have one.

  2. I recently found out i have a Florida flame azalea….never heard of the type before…but it has a beautiful orange flower like my orange lillies!!

    1. Wanda Simone says:

      Thanks, Amanda! I haven’t heard of that type before either. But it sounds beautiful!