Northern Lights pink

Northern Lights Pink azalea

In early spring, gardeners are hungry for color, and one of the best ways to get that color is by planting spring flowering shrubs. Northern Lights azaleas are rock-solid hardy members of the rhododendron genus that were bred at the University of Minnesota. The Northern Lights azaleas come in a variety of pink, white, salmon and yellow colors and tend to bloom in early to mid-May about the same time as daffodils.

Azaleas are not difficult to grow, but they have some specific requirements. They need sun or partial sun, but do not tolerate heat well. A hot area next to the house would not be a good location for Northern Lights, nor would a windy area. Their root systems are shallow, so they need to be watered during dry periods, and they do best when planted in soil with lots of compost or other organic matter to retain moisture. If your soil is clay, be sure to add plenty of organic matter.

Azaleas in bloomAzaleas (and rhododendrons) also are acid-loving plants, and do best in a soil with a pH of 5.5 or lower. Twice a year fertilizing with an acid fertilizer will keep the plants growing and blooming.

Another super hardy rhododendron is the ‘P.J.M.’ rhododendron, which has the pink color of many azaleas and rhododendron but tends to be larger in size than the Northern Lights azaleas.

What’s your favorite shrub for spring flowers?







  1. Larry Johnson on May 10, 2015 at 8:38 pm

    Yes, the Northern Lights Azalea was developed at the University of Minnesota, but all credit gos to my father, Albert Johnson. At the University Arboretum, his original pink flowered Northern Lights is featured all over the Arboretum. It was the first azalea to flower prolifically after minus 40 winters, and led to a wide spectrum of other colors developed by others following my father’s death. But the original development credit gos solely to my father, and I like to see see his brilliant work given credit.

    • Gail Steele on May 2, 2020 at 5:37 pm

      Here in southwestern Virginia we just planted a tri-lights azalea so lovely that I started researching others in this Lights series. It seems Albert Johnson’s horticultural “grandchildren” have spread their beauty far and wide! I too join in thanking your dad and hope someday to visit the university arboretum where this all started.

    • Jill Beyer on June 11, 2020 at 1:08 am

      I am very thankful to your Father Albert Johnson for developing such a gorgeous azalea. I have the pink that I got approx. 27 years ado. It is now 10 ft fall, yes. It was easy to grow. I have a picture of it on my phone if you would like to see it. Many people stop me when they see it, that gorgeous. What a tribute to your Dad.

    • Cynthy Johnson on June 23, 2020 at 10:38 pm

      I am so delighted to learn about your Father! I’ve had his Pink Northern Lights for almost 30 years now. Its fragrance is heavenly! I also have Mandarin Lights. Both are huge now, and the color of their blooms and their health and vigor are breathtaking. Thank you Albert Johnson!

    • Mary Lahr Schier on June 24, 2020 at 12:19 am

      This article gives a fairly complete history of the Northern Lights azaleas, including the role played by Albert Johnson.

  2. ginger turner on June 14, 2016 at 12:30 pm

    Thank you, thank you, thank you Albert Johnson. I have two northen lights azaleas, an orange and a yellow one. They give me much pleasure when they bloom. Now that I know who has given me this beauty to admire I will say thank you Albert Johnson each time I pass by them.

  3. 30 Great Plants for Northern Gardens on May 31, 2018 at 2:15 pm

    […] Northern Lights azaleas: Rock-solid […]

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