Christmas Azalea

Question: How should I take care of a potted azalea I received from a guest?

Answer: You can often find potted blooming azaleas for sale around the December holidays and at Easter. These are evergreen azaleas, usually hardy in USDA Zones 8–10. These azaleas have been grown in a greenhouse and forced into bloom at the desired time of year.

Azalea care indoors: place the potted azalea in a bright position but out of direct sun. Make sure its potting mix stays moist but not soggy. Check it regularly by pushing your finger about an inch deep into the mix. If that top layer feels dry, it is time to water. Stand the azalea in the sink and water it until water streams out of the drainage holes at the base of the pot.

Your potted azalea will be happiest in relatively cool temperatures—in the 50s at night and not above 68˚F during the day. To provide those cool nighttime temperatures, you may opt to move the azalea to an enclosed porch or unheated room at night.

After the azalea is finished blooming, you can repot it into a container one size bigger. Keep caring for it as outlined above. You can move the pot outdoors once the threat of frost has passed in the spring. Keep the azalea in a partly shaded location and check it often for dryness as the pot will likely dry out quickly. Move it back indoors before the first frost of fall. If you live in Zone 8 or warmer, there’s a good chance you can transplant your azalea into the ground and it will survive your winters.

Will your potted azalea bloom again next year? Unfortunately, this is tricky to make happen. The azalea will need about six weeks of nighttime temperatures between 40 and 55˚F in order to form buds. This can be very difficult to maintain once the azalea is moved indoors in the fall. Also, if the air is dry, the flower buds may be deformed.

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