MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

March 18, 2013

Floral freshen up: Azaleas renewed

Parks department reworks beds in Honor Heights

By Cathy Spaulding
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Honor Heights Park visitors could see nicer, newer azalea beds this year.

Muskogee Parks Superintendent Rick Ewing said crews are reworking the azalea beds in preparation for springtime visitors. Muskogee’s annual Azalea Festival brings thousands of visitors to the west Muskogee park — and to other area events and establishments — each April.

“This year, we’re concentrating heavily on renovating azalea beds and gardens,” Ewing said, adding that he’s pleased, so far.

“I believe they will perform nicer for us this spring,” he said.

The city added more than 1,000 azaleas this year to replace ones that had been lost over the past few years, Ewing said. The new azaleas line the right side of the drive near the 48th Street entrance.

He said many of the park’s azaleas date to the 1960s.

“They’re quite old and look leggy, with long branches on top,” he said.

Ewing said that since the ice storm of February 2007, the park lost “quite a number of azaleas.”

“The ice-laden azaleas just exploded when the falling limbs hit them,” he said.

In subsequent years, Muskogee has had its coldest winter on record in 2011, followed by scorching summers and warm winters, Ewing said.

This year, he said, “hasn’t been a bad winter, but it has been a little warm.”

Ewing said he hopes there will be no heavy freeze, such as one that happened last year.

“Last year, we had beautiful, warm weather, and the buds started to swell. Then it dropped to 15 degrees,” he said. “It happened at the most inopportune time. The inside of that bud dies. The husk has grown, but it never became fully developed.

“Azaleas will handle a moderate freeze just fine, up until the point when the buds are real soft and are ready to open up.”

Ewing said it could take at least another two years to redo all the azalea beds in Honor Heights.

“We’re reconfiguring beds, amending the soil and adding new azaleas,” he said, adding that crews are now spreading pecan mulch on the beds.

The city spent $15,000 for the new azaleas, plus $14,000 for the pecan mulch and $15,000 for soil with additives, said a Parks and Recreation Department spokeswoman.

The park has many other attractions to greet visitors this year. For example the Honor Heights Butterfly House and Garden will be open, though no butterflies are there yet. Ewing said the city planted a variety of butterfly-friendly flowers, including 5,000 tulips, in the garden.

Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928 or cspaulding@muskogeephoenix.com.