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Getting an azalea to rebloom

Were you lucky enough to receive an azalea as a gift plant for Easter? Azaleas are popular pot plants used as gifts for special occasions such as Easter and Mother’s Day. Although an azalea can be enjoyed until it has finished blooming (a healthy plant will bloom for several weeks) and then discarded, many gardeners simply cannot chuck a healthy plant into the compost bin if there is any chance that it can be rejuvenated and brought back into bloom.

Azaleas are actually shrubs that grow in subtropical and temperate locations; they grow and bloom outdoors on the British Columbia coast. During bloom time the plants are literally covered with flowers, which come in a wide variety of shades from dark red to pink to pure white. The flowers completely hide the shiny, dark-green leaves when a plant is in full bloom. While we cannot grow azaleas outdoors year round in our cold climate, we can enjoy the plants indoors during the winter and give them a few weeks outdoors during our short frost-free summer as we work at encouraging them back into bloom.

Keeping a potted azalea after the flowers have faded with the hope of encouraging the plant into bloom is not a terribly difficult process, but it does require diligence in a couple of areas. Firstly, azaleas are cool-weather plants and will not withstand much sun or high temperatures. Secondly, they demand that their planting medium never be allowed to dry out — allow this to happen and the project is doomed to failure.

While the plant is flowering indoors, and after the pot is moved outdoors after danger of frost has passed, it must be in as cool a spot as possible and protected from strong sunlight. An azalea will be happy on an east windowsill where it will get some morning sun; outdoors it will appreciate filtered light that is created by a leafy tree canopy that allows some sunlight to penetrate.

While in bloom indoors, the plant should be watered regularly so that the planting medium stays constantly moist. Add an all-purpose soluble fertilizer to the water once a week; a balanced formula will work fine. Remove spent blooms and watch out for insect pests as azaleas are subject to attacks from both aphids and spider mites. Azaleas like humidity so frequent showers under the garden hose will both deter pests, add humidity, and keep the foliage clean and attractive during the summer.

If the plant is quite large, you might like to trim it back a bit after it has finished blooming. This also would be a good time to repot the plant if the pot seems small for the amount of top growth. Use a pot one size larger than the original pot and make sure the soil mix is at least 3/4 peat moss, as they like an acidic soil, which is supplied by the peat moss.

Before frost threatens in the fall, the plant should be moved indoors to as cool a location as possible, and where the plant will receive bright light — even some morning or late-day sunlight. Make sure insect pests don’t hitch a ride indoors; take suitable precautionary measures so that this does not occur. Soon buds will begin to form and will continue to do so into the early winter. The buds form slowly so it will be late winter before the plant will burst into bloom. With any luck you will enjoy wonderful azalea blooms in your indoor garden next winter without having to purchase a new plant.

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