Azaleas on the Balcony

Potted azaleas are a miniature version of the more common, larger, outdoor azalea – Rhododendron simsii. Outdoor azaleas grow to be large shrubs that burst into colour during early spring. They are an established garden favourite, prized for adding intense colour to shaded areas and under trees. Azaleas prefer acidic soils – mulching, especially with acid compost or pine needles intensifies flowering.

Potted azaleas are more commonly referred to as ‘Florist Azaleas’. These miniature plants offer a compact ball of striking colour from early spring onwards. They have small, leathery dark-green leaves bearing clusters of buds and blooms at their tips. The range of flower colours is impressive and  includes white, pink, peach, lavender, red and bicolour. Blooms are 2 – 5cm across and often double or semi-double, some with ruffled petals.

Potted azaleas can be expected to flower for 3 – 4 weeks indoors, provided they are positioned correctly and well cared for … here’s how:

A few ‘selection tips’ when purchasing indoor azaleas

  • Look for plants with many buds, rather than full blooms
  • If sold in a plastic sleeve, remove once home (the sleeve is for protection during transport, but traps ethylene gas and can cause leaf drop – so don’t use it as a display or container)
  • Check the underside of the leaves for pesky whiteflies & mealybug (they love azaleas!)

Care advice and instructions

  • In their natural environment, azaleas thrive in cool, filtered sun positions
  • Cooler temperatures help the blooms last longer
  • Position in well lit area, but out of direct sun
  • Pay careful attention to watering – do not allow the plant to dry out. Water two to three times a week. A ‘good soak’ is always beneficial with indoor plants… stand the plant in a bath of water overnight, or ‘dunk’ into a bucket of water until the bubbles stop. Remove and allow the plant to drain.
  • Adding plant food will prolong and intensify flowering – we recommend foliar feeding monthly.

Once the seasonal flowering is over, the life of most azaleas as indoor plants is over – most people throw them away or they can be planted out into the garden.

Can you get indoor azaleas to re-bloom?

Yes – it isn’t easy but it’s definitely worth a try! Move to a position with a little more light and fertilise every 2nd week. Ultimately you need to acclimatise the plant to outdoor conditions and position it in a cool, shaded location. (Tip – as small pots tend to dry out quickly, you can ‘plant’ the entire plant – pot and all – into the soil). Azaleas prefer slightly acidic soil, so mulching is a great idea. Continue fertilising every 2 weeks. Leave the plant outside throughout summer and early autumn, bringing it back onto the patio/undercover before the first frost. NOW the hard part starts!

Flowers are set during periods of cold (4 – 10 deg C), but temps should not drop to freezing. Keep the soil moist and don’t allow the leaves to wilt. Stop fertilising … all the nutrition needed to flower has been stored in the leaves and additional fertiliser will promote foliage (vegetative growth).

Bring the azalea back indoors to its original positioning in late July and flowering should start within a few weeks. Getting azaleas to re-bloom is quite clearly not for the feint-hearted… It requires time, patience and careful planning but will be well worth the effort when the new buds appear.

For those of us that are too busy or impatient to attempt such a ginormous feat – simply pop into your favourite GCA garden centre and purchase a new one when the timing is right (and leave the expert growers to do the fancy part ☺!)

Enjoy your azaleas!

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