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Azaleas and Poinsettias

Beryl Harris

Some of you may have received an azalea for valentines. I love azaleas and I always purchase one about this time of year, and put it in the garden afterwards. Some I have had outside for several years, and hopefully they will come through this winter.

Potted azalea in bud or bloom should be placed in bright light but not direct sunlight. When the flowers have faded, the plants will do better in only medium light, maybe in a north window, but they must be kept cool.

If the room is too warm (above 70 degrees F), the flowers will flop and the leaves will fall. The flowers last for several weeks if you keep them cool enough. My house is kept at 50 degrees F which is cool for me, but my plants love it.

Make sure that indoor azaleas are permanently moist at the roots. They are almost always potted up in pure peat moss. Water them often and plentifully. I always stand mine in a bucket of water and allow the roots to take up as much water as they need. You must keep the mixture thoroughly moist. They dislike lime. If water-containing lime must be used, try purchasing water that is lime free, for the lime will make the leaves turn yellow and fall off, and the plant will die.

Apply a lime free fertilizer to your azalea once every two weeks from spring to early fall – your own compost is the very best solution here.

In the garden, they must be grown in acidic soil, so I grow mine under my cedar hedge, which is about 30 feet tall, and provides the right soil conditions and the required shade. After all danger of frost is past, plunge the pot into the ground or you may plant directly into the earth in a shady location, as long as the ground is not alkaline. Keep the plant moist and even spray it with water on warm evenings.

I leave my azalea plants in the garden – but if they are very small when I purchased them, I bring them back into the house for another season. I keep mine in a semi dark basement – allowing it to go dormant, but making sure that it never dries out. Most growers take them from their nursery beds, prune the roots and pack them into small pots, often they are set back by this treatment and they take a while to recover. When purchasing azalea buy the biggest ones that you can find. Enjoy,

Many of you purchased those beautiful poinsettias for Christmas and now are wondering what to do with them. Here are a few tips.

Keep this pretty plant at normal room temperatures in bright but filtered light. Full sunlight through a sheer curtain is ideal. Make sure that you keep it out of any drafts. Let the foliage slightly droop before you water it, then the soil should be thoroughly saturated. The water should run through the pot but do not let it stand in water, because it hates wet feet. You do not have to worry about feeding, since they come with a slow release fertilizer. The flowers are inconspicuous in Poinsettia and the colour comes from bracts surrounding the flower. The bracts should last at least two months. Once I saw one in a window, fresh and bright in July!

Most of us will discard the plant later on, but we get questions on how to keep Poinsettias over until next season. Cut the top growth down to about two inches from the base after the bracts have faded and fallen. Then allow the potting mixture to become almost, but never completely dry. When all growth stops, keep the now dormant plant at normal room temperature, still in that bright but filtered light. Around April, still in its same pot, flood your poinsettia with water and it will soon begin to grow again. Now you can either take 3-inch long tip cuttings from the new side shoots or you can leave the stump of the old plant to develop and produce a whole new season’s growth. When it starts to grow again remove it from its pot and shake off all the old potting mixture. Re-pot in the same sized pot with a fresh soil based mixture (not a soiless mix)

Treat the poinsettia as you did when you got it, but now you will need to give it monthly applications of a standard liquid fertilizer. Do not plant in a larger pot; otherwise you will get an abundance of growth, and no coloured bracts. Around the middle of September, give the plant no less than 14 hours of total darkness by placing it in a cupboard or closet. Even a chink of light prevents the bracts from forming. You will get a larger plant than the one you purchased since growers use a growth retardant chemical to produce a small but floriferous plant.

I put my poinsettias in the garden in the spring and just leave them out for the frost to “do it’s thing”. It just isn’t worth all that trouble for me to keep them until December because they are reasonable in price and the grower has done all the work for me. Have fun with your indoor gardening.