How to grow Azaleas
~~enjo posted Message 1292 in the Gardening BBS
Dated : March 30, 1999 at 11:14:51
Subject: Hi Mary...Re: Azalea
Not sure if I can really help you here since I've never lived in as cold a climate as CO and a LOT depends on what kind of azalea you have, as to whether it will survive outdoors. Some azaleas are very winter-hardy, others are not.
Unless there was a tag or marker with your plant which offered info on the kind of azalea it is, I can only guess at what might help. I'll give it a shot anyway:::
Not all azaleas are "evergreen." Many are deciduous (that is, they normally lose their leaves when they go dormant for fall/winter).
As a matter of fact, "deciduous" azaleas are normally the most winter-hardy. However, a "hothouse" or florist azalea often has had its normal cycle disrupted or has been unduly stressed by being forced to be in bloom for sale, so it's not necessarily really a deciduous azalea... but then it's also not necessarily "dead" just because it lost its leaves.
Do you happen to see any small new leaf buds coming out along the stems? That's one sign the plant is still alive at the roots.
If I were you I think I'd plant it outside and give it a chance to acclimatize if it can. I've never known azaleas to make
particularly good houseplants (not to say they can't, just that I personally never saw one do well indoors).
Not sure if in CO your ground is still frozen down to the frost-line or if y'all expect pretty severe weather yet to come.
If so, and if you'd rather try keeping the plant indoors til your real CO spring comes along, get a bigger pot with EXCELLENT drainage, and try to follow the same guidelines below for soil type, watering, light exposure, fertilizer/soil additives, etc. Indoors, you don't necessarily have to mulch although many foks do.
At repotting time, you can water soil to the overall damp stage and you can keep the mulch berely damp, but DON'T overwater the azalea after that. Damp is good, wet/soaked is not.
Air humidity: Remember, indoor air humidity in winter is often *very* low compared to outdoors, which could be another reason your azalea might have shed its leaves.
Try humidifying at least the area of your house where your azalea (& other similar plants) are a bit, if you can. (A bit of extra humidity indoors in winter is good for people too!).
Again, without knowing the kind of azalea, it's hard to say what light exposure it might need.
But, most azaleas seem to appreciate "light" but not hot direct "sun." For example, a sunny exposure but only in morning-eastern sun. Or a very light-bright but not direct-sun exposure, such as northeastern or southeastern, especially if there's a white wall or bldg nearby which reflects light toward the plant. Many azaleas also seem to do well in filtered shade.
Azaleas love well-draining, fairly light-textured soil on the "acid" side, so its best not to plant too near anything alkaline. Such as, for example, at a concrete house foundation, or in known alkaline soil like an area of the yard where lilacs do fantastically well --lilacs adore alkaline soil so a yard area they thrive in might not be suitable for the acid-loving azalea.
If you don't already know the pH of the soil in all areas of your yard, buy an easy "soil-test" kit from a gardening center or catalog, or contact your local county agricultural/ horticultural extension office; most all of them offer free or very low-cost soil testing.
You might be able to find bagged soil for acid-loving plants at a garden center or home improvement/discount store garden section, but try NOT to buy one that contains a lot of peat (I've found it tends to dry out fast and then repel water away from itself).
FERTILIZER or ACIDIFYING SOIL AMENDMENTS:
You'll easily find various soil additives/amendments & fertilizers made especially for azaleas & other acid-lovers. You could add about half-strength fertilizer etc recommended on the labels but do NOT overfertilize (your plant is stressed-out enough already).
Once your azalea's planted outdoors, give it a good thick shredded-hardwood or shredded-cedar/cypress mulch if it's not quite spring yet.
Dry, finely-chopped oak leaves also make an excellent mulch for acid-loving plants --if you happen to have piles of oak leaves, you can chop them pretty finely with a string WeedEater or a mulching mower.
You can water soil to the overall damp stage at planting, then wet down the mulch too, but DON'T overwater after that.
Then when your soil/air temperatures warm up reliably OR whenever you see new leaf buds coming out along the plant's branches, pull the mulch well back from the crown (the point where the main stem meets the roots/ground) but leave the mulch over the roots.
Use the acid-type-plants fertilizer again at half-strength if/when the leaf buds come out, and again at half-strength after flowering (if any, but don't necessarily expect a flowering this year).
If the plant appears to be thriving, mulch fairly heavily again for winter. If it does not put out any new leaves at all this growing season, I'd say it's probably gone, unfortunately.