Few flowers are so brilliant as greenhouse or florist’s Azaleas. Coming in a profusion of varieties these are especially welcome bursts of colour throughout late winter. Such vivid blooms come in whites through velvety pinks to extreme reds on neat compact, usually, evergreen plants.
Of course just as with their outdoor cousins our indoor Azaleas have their nomenclature rather mixed up. Most are highly inter-bred Rhododendrons. The confusion started with the original Indian Azalea R. Indica, a Rhododendron from India, which actually came from Japan. Although tender this proved popular in the early glasshouses where it soon multiplied into dozens of varieties and hybrids.
In practice though many modern varieties are tender it is more the treatment we give them that makes them vulnerable. Naturally flowering later in the year we want blooms earlier so we force them into growth with conditions less than perfect, warm but not very bright. The soft growth produced is then more prone to damage, pests and diseases. Nonetheless these Azaleas are relatively easy, and can give decades of pleasure slowly becoming larger more floriferous bushes.
Although as usual seed is a possible route with countless dozens of superb varieties just obtain a named variety already of flowering size (which can be quite compact). If needing potting up ericaceous compost is mandatory! A terra cotta pot will be best as its weight will balance the top. (Often for speed and economy plants are offered where three or more cuttings have been rooted and potted together. These are fine but better separated after flowering into individual pots.) More plants can be had by rooting cutting in early summer with a little bottom heat.
Keep your plants in a sunny place outdoors until autumn when you bring them into a frost free light place around 45F through late autumn and early winter. Do not be keen to try and flower them for Christmas or New Year as this will exhaust them. Wait till early January, or even February, then raise the temperature to 60F and they’ll soon burst into growth and blossom.
Always keep Azaleas in full light and water when nearly dry with tepid rainwater, very occasionally add liquid feed during the growing season. Watch out for all the usual culprits especially vine weevils.
The connoisseur/collector will find enough species, hybrids, varieties and inter-species hybrids to fill a dozen greenhouses. But please get at least one!