By Anna Cottrell published
Azaleas are plants for the true connoisseur of flowering bushes. Azalea blooms are a joy to behold in early spring – they come in a wonderful variety of colors from white to bright pinks and make for excellent container gardening ideas. In fact, this is how many people end up with container grown azaleas – they get given them as birthday or Christmas gifts.
If you've been gifted one and don't have much experience with these special plants, you'll want to read these top tips from landscape designer and Garden Police presenter Shirley Bovshow.
1. House plant or patio plant?
As Shirley points out, there is a lot of confusion around just where you should be growing azaleas. Most people are gifted indoor azaleas, or pot-grown azaleas, that have been 'grown under very specific temperatures and lighting conditions' in a greenhouse. When they're brought into a home, they're 'going to expect certain conditions' to thrive. Shirley says that a 'florist azalea is primarily an indoor plant'. However, you can take azaleas out when the weather begins to warm up in spring. Florist azaleas are not quite the same as rhododendrons, which are from the same family of plants and grow best in the ground, outdoors.
2. The importance of the correct soil
'Once your plant begins to outgrow its pot, you can repot it using specialist soil,' Shirley says. This is crucial for ensuring your azalea bush continues blooming year after year. Many people throw away azaleas thinking that they're annuals, but this is not true: with a bit of attention, they will thrive for many years. They do need a special soil mix and won't grow well in multi-purpose compost. Azaleas 'need acidic conditions' to grow and bloom.
Find out more about acidic soil in our guide to soil types.
3. Correct temperature
Azaleas 'won't be happy in temperatures over 70 degrees,' Shirley explains. It 'sounds crazy' to put a flowering plant in the coldest room in the house, but that's exactly what azaleas like for blooming. 'If it's between 50 and 70, it's going to do really well' – so, think an unheated greenhouse, or even a cool hallway, or anywhere where the azaleas 'gets about six hours of indirect lighting a day'.
4. Use the 'pick-me-up' method for watering
Watering plants correctly is always crucial to them doing well, no matter what you're growing. Azaleas are a bit different in that just touching the soil won't give you the best idea of whether it's time to water. Shirley advises to water your azalea well as soon as you get it and pick up the pot: 'feel how heavy it is' – that's what a well watered azalea feels like. You need to remember this weight, because even if your azalea feel moist on top, if it's light when you pick it up, it's time to water.
Shirley waters her azaleas by submerging the pots in water: 'If you see bubbles coming out, that's water displacing air pockets in the soil.' This is a good sign and tells you that you're watering your azalea at the correct time.
When do azaleas bloom?
That depends entirely on the type of azalea you've got, but most indoor azaleas will bloom sometime between December (if they're early season) and May, usually for a period of up to three months. If you live in a mild, marine climate, a container azalea may well end up blooming for up to seven months a year, between December and June.
Anna is a keen urban gardener, with David Austin roses and Japanese acers among her favourite plants. She moved into the world of interiors from academic research in the field of literature and urban space a couple of years ago. She's always been interested in how people make houses into homes, and how our concepts of what's stylish change over time.
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