Florist, or greenhouse, azaleas are commonly given as gifts. Lovely dark foliage provides a dramatic backdrop for a profusion of buds and blooms in an undeniably breathtaking display. Sadly, once flowering has completed, many potted azaleas end up in the trash, destined for a landfill. Most people complain that the difficult plants stubbornly refuse to bloom again, cease to thrive, give up all hope and suffer miserable demise. It's true that these plants can be downright frustrating. But with a little know-how, patience and common sense, you too can join the elite few who successfully cultivate potted azaleas as happy blooming houseplants.
Choose a healthy specimen that has unblemished foliage, very few open flowers and lots of buds. Some buds will be showing color while others will be tightly closed. This will ensure that you'll be able to enjoy maximum blooming time. If the plant is decorated by an outer pot cover, remove it as soon as you get it home. Pot covers kill healthy plants rapidly by preventing adequate drainage.
Place the potted azalea in a cool, brightly-lit location near a window but out of direct sun so that you can enjoy the beautiful blooming cycle. Direct sunlight will quickly fade the flowers and shorten their lifespan. The plant should receive four to six hours of indirect sun daily. Maintain daytime temperatures between 62 and 68 degrees F. Move the plant to a 45 to 50-degree F area for the night.
Water the potted azalea thoroughly when the surface of the soil feels dry to the touch. Set it in the sink and allow water to drain freely from the drainage holes. Don't let the pot sit in a saucer of drained water. Never let this plant wilt, and don't let it dry out to the point that the pot feels light when you pick it up.
Feed the plant a liquid azalea fertilizer once every other week until you see buds forming in late fall or early winter. Feed an application of cheleated iron if the leaves begin to yellow. Continue to water as in Step 3.
Plant the azalea up to the rim of its pot outside in a partially shaded, well-draining spot after all danger of frost has passed in late April through early May. Continue to water and feed it as before, but monitor it closely because it will dry out much faster planted in this manner. Substitute the plant's regular feedings with cheleated iron if yellowing leaves persist.
Trim the tips from actively growing stems to shape the plant by the middle of June, and stop fertilizing at the end of September.
Mulch the plant to protect it when light frosts begin to arrive in late fall. A healthy plant can withstand light frost. Allow it to remain outdoors until hard frosts or freezing threaten, when you must bring it back inside. The azalea needs 40 to 50 degree F cooling between early November and early January to force it to re-bloom. Buds should begin developing around that time. Water only enough to keep it from wilting.
Dig the potted azalea up out of the ground and bring it inside in January, after five to six weeks of very cool weather. Set it on a bright windowsill out of direct sun. Start warming it up a little by maintaining nighttime temperature approaching but not exceeding 60 degrees F. Resume watering as in Step 3. Buds should be swelling, and new shoots will begin growing as the plant revives. Your potted azalea should burst into glorious bloom again in a few weeks.