Monday, December 29, 2008
Before we get onto our subject today--flowering indoor azaleas--let me mention a couple of items.
First, I would like to wish you a sincere Happy Holidays message--we hope your Christmas time was restful and well spent with family and friends. Now onto the New Year!
While we are journeying toward 2009, let me say that I just put a healthy dose of water into my Christmas tree stand earlier today. Watering your tree daily is critical to your Christmas tree looking great (and also staying fresh and fire resistant into the New Year.)
We have many items on sale at Skillin's over the holidays. All Christmas items are 50% off (we still have some awesome ornaments!). Bird feeders, food and supplies are 25% off for the time being. Tools including newly arriving snow shovels are 25% off. Webkinz are 25% for the time being. We grew the best poinsettias and azaleas this year and what is left is 50% off. These plants make awesome house plants for the winter.
The florist azalea is one of my very favorite house plants. The flowers are gorgeous almost all winter long and then the plant rewards as a great house plant for the remainder of the year until the plant is ready to flower again.
Many years ago Jim Crockett the founder of Crocketts Indoor Garden wrote about the allure and care of the florist azalea:
"If I had to write a one-sentence summary of azalea care, it would be this: keep them cool, keep them moist, and keep them after they flower. An English gardening magazine once published a photograph of a 150 year old azalea that had been growing in the same pot, regularly fed and trimmed, of course, for 50 years. In Japan, where most evergreen azaleas are native, gardeners regard an azalea of that age as a mere stripling!
The kinds of so-called florist azaleas grown as houseplants are flowering shrubs with small evergreen leaves; their flowers, single or double, are usually white or a shade of pink or red. Yellow and orange azaleas are for the most part deciduous and are generally grown in outdoor gardens. Normally florist azaleas bloom in the spring but plant specialists by altering temperatures are able to bring them into flower at any time of the year. Because of the great demand for flowering plants during the fall, winter, and early spring, the bulk of azaleas are brought into bloom and sold in flower shops between November and May. Given the right care through their rest period, they then resume their normal spring-blossoming schedule. It's the after-blooming care that I like to emphasize because it's entirely possible for the home gardener to keep azaleas growing for many years with an ever-increasing abundance of flowers.
Most people buy azaleas as bud-and-bloom-laden plants just as they are about to flower. While they are in bloom, and in their vegetative period as well, they need a cool, brightly lit spot; an east-facing window with night temperatures about 50 degrees is ideal. The cooler they can be kept the healthier they will be and the longer the flowers will last. (If they are kept in too warm a spot, their growth becomes etoliated, meaning that the leaves are widely spaced along slender stems.) It is vital that the planting medium be kept constantly moist all year.
The critical time in an azalea's life is after the flowers fade. Too many gardeners seem to think that the plants are worthless at this point, and put them out with the Thursday trash. But as I've said, if they're properly attended they'll last for years and even improve with age. The first step in after-flowering care is housekeeping. I go over an entire plant and snip off the dead blossoms and the seed pods. Then I trim back any branches that stray beyond the plant's natural shape, making my cuts down inside the foliage so the cuts do not show. Then I repot the plant into a 1-inch larger pot...(we recommend Coast of Maine's Bar Harbor Blend potting soil for a top quality all natural and affordable potting medium). (We also recommend breaking up some all natural Plant Nutrition Tablets by Organica--also sold right here at Skillin's--for a good long-term fertilizer for your azalea).
Once an azalea's flowers fade, the plant begins a handsome new stage of vegetative growth, and it's then that the foliage takes its turn at showing off. Unlike many flowering plants, the azalea is a beautiful flowering plant during the months when its not in flower.) When this new growth reaches maturity, but before it gets hard and woody, new plants can easily be started from 2 to 3 inch cuttings taken from the tips of the stems.
When summer approaches (can't wait for that!) and the danger of frost is past, I move my azaleas, pots and all, outside to a shady spot....I always try to keep them near a water source to reduce the effort involved in keeping the constantly moist during the blistering days of summer. In the fall when a frost threatens I bring them in and set them in a cool bright windowsill. They're at their best when the nights are in the 40 to 55 degree range and the days no warmer than 68....
Invasions of spider mites are sometimes a problem. The answer to this is good hygiene. Whether the plants are indoors or out, they should be washed weekly, aiming a good strong spray all around the foliage, especially on the undersides of the leaves....
Finally, it's normal for all plants to drop their old leaves, but when they drop the new ones, too, it means trouble. Usually the problem is too little moisture, but too little light will have the same effect. Keep the soil beneath the plants moist at all times, and if this doesn't seem to help, move them to a brighter spot."
December 30, 2008