Florist or Grocery Store Azaleas

Potted azaleas are often sold at florists' shops and grocery stores. Frequently, they are gifted to people as a blooming houseplant. This article discusses if these azaleas are viable long-term, and will they bloom again?

Like winter-time poinsettias, azaleas purchased from florists or grocery stores typically are grown as short-lived houseplants. They are forced to flower in greenhouses with a tightly controlled growing environment, and it's a shock to the plant's system when it experiences the much different temperature, humidity, and light conditions in your home. Once the blooms fade, these plants typically get thrown away.

Proper care can extend the life of your plant. When you first bring your florist's azalea home from the store, remove any decorative outer foil or other wrapping from around the pot as this can inhibit drainage.

Select a location with bright, indirect light, where the temperature is between 60 to 70°F. Avoid placing it in areas that have dramatic temperature fluctuations.

Potted azaleas bought from stores usually are grown in peat moss that provides good drainage and correct acidic growth conditions. However, peat can dry out quickly if you forget to water the pot. If the potting medium feels bone-dry and plant leaves have drooped, immerse the plant pot in a container of lukewarm water for 15 minutes and afterwards drain the excess water from the pot.

Watering is a common reason for potted azaleas to die. The soil medium should not be too soggy or too dry. Allow the top half inch of potting mix to dry between waterings. Ideally, one should use bottled water or rainwater to hydrate your plant, as municipal water often is too alkaline.

Florist azaleas are almost always Southern Indicas varieties, and generally they cannot tolerate low temperatures. If low temperature is not a concern in your area, then with proper care they can be maintained to bloom again.

After the blooms fade, repot your plant into a larger container with drainage holes using an acidic soil mixture with a pH of 4.5 to 6.0. Purchased potting soil specifically designated for rhododendrons and azaleas works well. Deadhead the spent flowers and prune out any broken, dead, or diseased branches.

In order for these plants to bloom again, they need a chilling period of about two months with temperatures between 40 to 50°F. Commercial growers achieve this by keeping the plants in a controlled environment. One can replicate this by placing your plant in the basement or other suitable location. Reduce watering during this period, but do not allow the soil to completely dry out. After two months of cooler temperatures, move your plant back to a location with 60 to 70°F temperatures.

During the spring/summer months, the plant can be grown outdoors in a protected area. Harden it off gradually over the course of a week to 10 days, by placing the plant outdoors for increasing amounts of time. Fertilize with a product for acid-loving plants during active growth.

Bring your florist's azalea back indoors before first frost as exposure to low temperatures, even for a short time, will kill the plant. Bring it indoors for increasing amounts of time over the course of a week.

Alliums in your garden

Allium is a large and happy family - there are about 700 assorted aunts and cousins, all of whom are related by blood or marriage to the humble onion. Most are pretty hardy and there are varieties to suit almost every growing condition and the caprice of every gardener.

Allium flowers vary in size from cabbage (A. schubertii) to ping-pong ball (A. caeruleum). Height ranges from waist-high (A. giganetum) to little ankle-biting plants (A. forrestii). Colors range from bright yellow to many shades of mauve and purple to pure blue, and white.

Apart from A. schonoprasum (chives) most alliums are planted in the fall. They enjoy sun but hate wet feet in winter. Don't plant the large-flowered varieties too close together as they need room for those giant flower heads. Small-flowered ones can be closer together and left to form a clump.

Allium leaves look rather floppy and take time to die down in the fall, but planted among hostas, rhododendrons, other shrubs, or with ornamental grasses they are not too noticeable.

You can grow them from seed - your own, if you wish - for those big seed heads are loaded with little black seeds in the fall.

Kubota Garden

Kubota Garden is a stunning 20-acre garden composed of hills and valleys, featuring streams, waterfalls, ponds, rock outcropping, and an exceptionally rich and mature collection of plant material. This unique urban refuge displays over 60 years of vision, effort, and commitment by the Kubota family.  Master landscaper Fujitaro Kubota was a horticultural pioneer when he began merging Japanese design techniques with North American materials.

In 1927 Fujitaro bought five acres of logged-off swamp land in the Rainier Beach neighborhood of Seattle and began his garden. Fujitaro was a man with a dream, entirely self-taught as a gardener, he wanted to display the beauty of the Northwest in a Japanese manner and was soon designing and installing gardens throughout the Seattle area. The garden on the Seattle University campus and the Japanese Garden at the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island are public examples of his work.

As Fujitaro's landscaping business prospered, his Rainier Beach Garden grew to 20 acres in size. It was the family home, the business office, a design and display area and a nursery to grow plants. In the 1930's, a natural stream was enclosed in a pool and surrounded with maple, pine, iris, and stone. In the forties during World War II, the garden was abandoned for four years while the Kubota family suffered internment at Camp Minidoka in Idaho. Fujitaro and his sons, Tak and Tom, restarted the landscape business after the war and began extensive plantings of nursery stock. Many of these nursery areas are still in use today.

In 1972 the Japanese Government awarded Fujitaro Kubota with a rare honor, the Fifth Class Order of the Sacred Treasure, “for his achievements in his adopted country, for introducing and building respect for Japanese Gardening.”

Fujitaro died in 1973 at age 94. He had always hoped that the garden would one day be open to the public, both to enhance the quality of life in Seattle and to increase American understanding and appreciation of Japanese culture. In 1981 the American Japanese Garden, created by Fujitaro, was declared to be an Historical Landmark of the City of Seattle.

Rhododendron calendulaceum

Have you ever taken the Blue Ridge Highway and watched a full scene of flaming color.  It takes your breath away.  You are seeing Rhododendron calendulaceum in its glory.  It is one of the most spectacular native shrubs of the Appalachian Mountains.  E.H. Wilson, the notable British plant collector and explorer, wrote, "..."It must be considered one of the most gorgeous of American shrubs."  Why?

  • its unopened buds give a resemblance to candle flames,
  • its flowers are very showy and are larger than most other natives,
  • the color is termed fiery, was said to have alarmed early explorers who, upon viewing a whole hillside in bloom, thought they were ablaze,
  • colors range from yellow, yellow-orange, orange-red, and red, usually with an orange blotch on the upper lobe,
  • leaves are 1 to 3-in. long, medium to dark green above, with short hairs below, both leaves and branches often appear in whorls.

A little background surrounding this gem: calendulaceum means like a "calendula," a genus of flowering plants with similar flower color.  It is one of 16 species in Rhododendron subgenus Pentanthera, section Pentanthera, referred to as the deciduous azaleas. it's commonly called the "Flame Azalea".

It was first identified in 1795 by Andre Michaux, a French botanist, in the Southeastern U.S. and since has played an important role in the early development of the Ghent Hybrids, which began with its cross with R. periclymenoides.

This gorgeous gem forms an upright, spreading shrub or small tree, which can grow from 4- to 15-ft. tall in the wild. but usually is much shorter in cultivation.  Typical bloom time is May through June at which time you will find entire hillsides brilliantly colored.  Its native habitat includes open, dry sites in woods, on cliffs and hillsides, and on bald open area on mountaintops from 600 to 5,000 ft.  It is hardy to Zone 5 (-25°F or -30°C).

R. calendulaceum has close relatives! With the closest one being R. cumberlandense, a smaller plant with a paler flower.  The scarcity of natural hybrids may be due to it being a tetraploid. whereas other azaleas in its range are diploid.  Because of this genetic incompatibility, its hybrids are often sterile.

R. calendulaceum is difficult to propagate from cuttings, but it is very easy to grow from seed.

pH - Why is it important for rhododendrons?

What is pH? How do I obtain a proper pH for my rhododendrons?

pH refers to the acidity of a material. Technically, it is a measurement of the hydrogen ion content. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14, pHs of 0 to 7 are acidic, pHs of 7 to 14 are referred to as being basic or alkaline. A pH of 7 means the material is neutral. For rhododendrons the preferred pH should be between 5 and 6.5.

It is difficult for a layperson to determine the pH of the potting medium they use. There are pH meters on the market, but the ones that cost less than $100 are practically worthless. However, it is fairly easy to get your growing medium pH in the desired range. Fir or hemlock bark is almost always in an acceptable range and, therefore, an ideal growing medium to use. It is best if the bark has decayed for six months prior to use.

The reason pH is important for plants has to do with the intake of minerals and nutrients. If the pH is too low, rhododendrons have difficulty taking in the nitrogen and phosphorous they need for growth. If the planting medium of soil is too alkaline, i.e. the pH is too high, it usually causes iron and/or manganese deficiencies.

In summary, pH is important for growing healthy rhododendrons. Generally, it is advisable to use fir or hemlock bark in pots and bark or pine needle mulch as an additive for plants grown in the ground.

Iron-Clad Rhododendrons

R. catawbiense was collected in the wild in 1803 in the Eastern U.S. and was introduced to Britain in 1809. When hybridized with other rhododendrons it introduced cold and heat hardiness into rhododendron hybrids. The first group of rhododendrons to become popular in gardens was the hybrids called the "iron-clads." There were a group of early British hybrids involving crosses of R. caucasicum, R. catawbiense, R. ponticum and R. maximum that survived the coldest winters at Arnold Arboretum in Boston. In 1917, Ernest Henry Wilson (1876-1930) published a list of what he termed the "Iron Clad" rhododendrons that for many years were successfully growing in the Arnold Arboretum.

 Wilson's Dozen Iron-Clad Rhododendrons

 1. Album Elegans, pale purplish pink hybrid or selection.
 2. Album Grandiflorum, pinkish white hybrid or selection.
 3. Atrosanguineum, bright red with purple markings hybrid.
 4. Catawbiense Album, pinkish white hybrid or selection.
 5. Charles Dickens, crimson red with purplish markings hybrid.
 6. Everestianum, purplish-pink with green markings hybrid.
 7. Henrietta Sargent, a deep pink hybrid.
 8. Lady Armstrong, deep purplish pink, pale center hybrid.
 9. Mrs. Charles S. Sargent, rose pink hybrid.
10. Purpureum Elegans, pinkish purple hybrid.
11. Purpureum Grandiflorum, violet with green flecks hybrid.
12. Roseum Elegans, lavender pink with green markings hybrid.