Azaleas are very popular gift plants sold by florists, just as they are coming into flower. It is wise to buy them just as the buds are beginning to show colour. However, there are two types, needing quite different treatment. The one usually seen at Christmas is the Indian

azalea. Rhododendron simsii, which is tender and forced into bloom for the Christmas trade. From late winter to spring, the hardy Japanese azaleas – the Kurume hybrids which are rhododendron hybrids – are sold. These may also have been gently forced. Both of these azaleas form neat, low-growing shrubby plants and bear masses of glorious flower in rich colours, forming very impressive displays in the home. Indian azaleas are difficult to cultivate in normal home conditions. After purchase. place the plant where it is cool and there are no draughts, but not cold. About 10 deg C (50 deg F) is ideal. Keep the roots nicely moist. Wide changes of any kind can cause the flowers to drop. In summer, put the plant outdoors where it’s shady, and continue to keep the roots

moist. In autumn, the plant can be brought into a cool room with a minimum of 7 deg C (45 deg F). It is not easy to provide the warmth and humidity achieved by nurseries when forcing these plants, so flowering may be much later than Christmas.

The Japanese azalea is much easier to grow, but they really need to spend most of their life outdoors in the garden, or on a patio or balcony. The plants are best brought into the home when just coming into bud. and put into a cool. airy room out of direct sunlight. At all limes, shade should be provided, or an outside position chosen on the north side of the house.

When potting or repotting, remember to use an acid potting compost. The plants dislike alkaline or limy composts, and also hard tap-water. This invariably leads to yellowing of the foliage, poor growth, and eventually failure. Use clean rainwater for watering. Often. erratic watering can result in leaf and bud drop. This may not occur until some time after the period of maltreatment. Whitefly is the most common insect pest.

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