The Azalea Society of America identifies 17 native, or wild, azalea species (Rhododendron spp.) growing in the United States. All are deciduous; and with the exception of two species found on the West Coast, all grow in the eastern or southeastern parts of the country. Others may be naturalized, which means the plants aren't native but have become established in natural areas. Although hardiness varies, most wild azaleas grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 8. Propagating these spectacular plants by taking cuttings from late spring to midsummer is an effective way to start a new plant.
Fill a 4- to 5-inch container with a well-draining mixture such as a combination of equal parts peat, perlite and fine bark. Mix in 1/2 teaspoon of general-purpose, dry fertilizer per quart of potting mixture.
Take three or four cuttings from a healthy wild azalea in the morning when the shrub is well-hydrated. Use clean pruners to cut each stem just below a leaf or bud, making each cutting about 3 inches long. The best cuttings for rooting are flexible but not too thin and firm enough to snap when sharply bent. Avoid weak growth or branches that show signs of pests or disease.
Pinch the lower leaves from the cuttings, leaving one or two leaves at the top of each. Use a sharp knife to remove a tiny sliver of bark from the bottom of the stems, then dip the stems in liquid, gel or powdered rooting hormone.
Make three or four planting holes in the potting mix with the holes equally spaced around the inside edge of the container. Use your finger or a pencil or similar object to make the holes.
Place each cutting in a hole with the leaves slightly above the surface of the potting mix. Cut the leaves in half horizontally to save space and conserve water. Be sure the leaves don't touch the potting soil or other leaves.
Water lightly to settle the potting mix around the stems. The potting mix should be damp but never wet enough to drip through the drainage hole. Place the container in low light.
Water the potting mix regularly and be sure the mix never becomes dry. Covering the container with a plastic bag sealed with a rubber band is an effective way to keep the cuttings moist and warm. Alternatively, cut a clear soda bottle in half and invert the top of the bottle over the pot. The plastic keeps the potting mix moist until the cuttings root, usually about eight weeks.
Remove the plastic when the azalea cuttings show new growth. Plant each cutting in a 3- to 4-inch container filled with fresh, good-quality commercial potting soil. Place the young plants in bright sunlight and keep the soil lightly moist.
Plant the wild azaleas outdoors after all danger of frost has passed, or transplant them into 1-gallon containers and let them mature for an additional year.