Azaleas As Houseplants: A Guide for Indoor Azalea Success

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“Garden Royalty” is just one of the familiar names bestowed upon azaleas because of their colorful and prominent blooms. Azaleas, as houseplants, aren’t overly-sensitive and won’t immediately wilt or die with a bit of neglect. Problems typically only happen if you do not consistently give them the care they need. However, they are also not a species fit for all beginners.

If you’re a beginner but want to try your hands at potted azaleas, you’ve come to the right place. Read on for tips about how to care for this beautiful plant, including considerations to make if you want to keep it indoors.

Azaleas as Houseplants: The Basics

Flowering shrubs that typically grow during springtime, we find azaleas classified under the genus Rhododendron and sections Pentanthera (deciduous) and Tsutsuji (evergreen). They have numerous varieties because of different propagation techniques.

These plants are ornamental, and people often use them for outdoor landscaping. When grown outdoors, they can reach as high as six feet.

Because of various developments in azalea care, azaleas are now also grown in greenhouses and homes. At present, many households have begun cultivating them indoors with excellent results.

The average lifespan of azaleas as houseplants is around 50 years when properly tended to. However, problems such as fungal diseases can shorten the plant’s lifespan if the cause goes untreated.

Root rotting is another issue common to this flowering shrub. While the plant may not immediately show problems, it may start to deteriorate at around 35 years old. This deterioration may even happen when an azalea has the best care.

Soil and Container Factors for Azaleas as Houseplants

Azalea flower in the pot isolated on a white background

Azaleas mainly thrive in acidic environments. Therefore, never use tap water to moisten the soil as this proves toxic to these plants.

Choose the Right Container

Choose a pot with good drainage that is at least three times the size of your azalea. Such a container gives the azalea’s roots the wiggle room they need. It also encourages optimal moisture retention for plant nutrition.

Soil Guidelines for Azaleas as Houseplants

Fill the pot halfway with loose soil. An equal mixture of sand and mulch is ideal. If you have soil with clay-like consistency, consider mixing it with more mulch to loosen it up even more. To control humidity levels, you may consider placing large pebbles on the top layer of the soil.

If you have used coffee grounds at home, mix them in with the soil for your azaleas. Coffee is acidic and can help azaleas thrive even more. Coffee further facilitates the uptake of nutrients from the soil to the roots and different parts of the plant.

Place some pebbles on the bottom part of the pot as well. The rocks will help ward off worms that may make their way into the pot. Coarse soil is also ideal for this job.

Fertilizer

Most azalea species do not need fertilizer during most of their lifespan. However, you may use some general-purpose liquid fertilizer once you see the first few signs of flower growth. Acid-based and water-soluble types are best for these plants.

Apply fertilizer about two to three times during summer or fall. Evenly space out its feeding sessions — ideal feeding time should be one to two months apart to let the plant rest. Use half the recommended amount of fertilizer for new growths. Don’t apply fertilizer if you’re dealing with plants repotted within the previous year.

Water

Azaleas are considered high-maintenance plants and need strategic watering for them to grow well. If you leave your plant to dry out, its leaves and its flowers will eventually fall off. Underwatering will also stunt their growth, and shriveling leaves may occur.

Ideal Moisture Level

This plant thrives in moist soil conditions, so never let its soil dry completely, or you might damage its roots.

If you live in a warm and humid place, make sure to water it daily. Watering during the early parts of the morning or late in the evening is optimal during the summer season. Watering during these times ensures the sun won’t make the water quickly evaporate, leaving the soil dry.

Do not let the roots soak in water for prolonged periods, as this may result in root rot. So, always check the pot’s drainage system to help prevent this issue. Avoid using drip trays if you can.

Water Type

Use lime-free water to hydrate the plants. Distilled water is also suitable for azaleas but may be impractical to use if you’re taking care of more than one. In this case, it’s good to gather rainwater and use it for watering the plants. Because azaleas thrive in acidic environments, you may add one teaspoon of vinegar for every gallon of water used for your plants.

Watering Schedule for Azaleas as Houseplants

Purple Azalea Topiary flower plant

Your watering schedule will depend on a lot of factors surrounding the plant. Azaleas planted in smaller pots will need more frequent watering because their roots tend to dry out faster. Plants in larger pots may survive for a couple of days without water because the soil somewhat retains moisture. More soil means more moisture available for the roots to absorb when needed.

Light and Temperature

Azaleas are hardy flowering shrubs that thrive in moderately cold environments. You’ll want to keep them in rooms with an average temperature of 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. They also do best in areas that get a good amount of indirect sunlight.

Keep them away from freezing temperatures to prevent the risk of frost damage.

Humidity

It is essential to control humidity, especially during the summer when these plants dry out faster.

If you live somewhere dry, consider using a pebble tray to help create a more humid environment. It is a shallow dish containing small pebbles and water, on which you can place your pot. The water in the tray will gradually evaporate, with its resulting vapors providing your plant with its much-needed humidity.

Misting your plants may cause fungal infestations, so using a pebble tray helps provide azaleas moisture without harming its buds and flowers. Check it from time to time for a water refill. Also, replace its water daily to discourage any unwanted growth and contamination.

Avoid placing your plants near radiators, vents, and air-conditioning units.

Propagating Azaleas as Houseplants

There are two main ways to propagate your azalea plants indoors. You may use one or both of these techniques as the need arises. The new azalea plant will develop differently depending on the method you choose to grow it.

Germinating Azalea Seeds

If you prefer your azalea to appear as a combination of both parents, you’ll want to take this route. In some cases, azaleas grown from seed germination look more like one of the parents.

The azalea’s seed pods start to grow and develop during the summer season. They are ready for harvesting during autumn. After gathering some seeds, it’s best to keep them in envelopes and store them somewhere dry. Wrapping them in paper envelopes helps speed up the drying process in preparation for germination.

Prepare the soil by layering them in a pot in two layers during the later parts of autumn. The bottom layer should be 50% sand and 50% peat moss. The top part should be mostly moistened sphagnum moss. Place the dried seeds over the moss. Use cling wrap to cover the top part and place a fluorescent grow light over it. The light should be approximately eight inches above the top of the pot. The first signs of germination should appear somewhere between two to four weeks.

Cutting Stems

If you want your new plant to look just like the one you have indoors, go for this approach. The cutting will be ready for planting a few weeks after the propagation. Therefore, you need to carefully plan, especially if you expect the weather to get too hot or too chilly.

To start, look for the stems that are firm but not too brittle to touch. These are the stems that start to develop after the leaves mature in springtime. Cut off this stem just below a leaf node. Trim the leaves from the bottom third of this cutting. Do this for the flower buds at the bottom part as well. Cut the stem diagonally, so more of the inner parts are exposed. Doing so aids in increasing the stem’s water intake and accelerates root growth. Prepare the rooting hormone and dip the diagonal tip on this solution.

Use a rooting medium that drains water well. Such a medium helps keep the roots moist while preventing root rotting. Place the lower third of the cutting over the medium. Place the cutting on a spot that receives indirect but bright sunshine. Water the stem as soon as the medium turns dry to touch. After eight weeks, roots should start to emerge.

General Maintenance for Azaleas as Houseplants

Maintenance for azaleas may be a bit tedious and intimidating for beginners. However, with the right mindset and routine, it should turn into second nature.

Pruning/Grooming

Grooming your azaleas helps retain their shape and can also contribute to lengthening their lifespan. Locate the largest branches of your plant and cut them by one-half or one-third. Trim the remaining branches to guide the formation of the plant’s shape.

Pay attention to browning leaves

If you start to see browning in any part of the leaves, but they remain attached to the branches, it may eventually lead to root rot. Check your pot’s drainage system for any potential blockage. Also, check to see if you overwatered the plant.

Get rid of any affected parts as the damage will only progress over time. Unfortunately, you can’t reverse this once it’s started.

Repotting Azaleas as Houseplants

The best time for repotting is early autumn or late summer. Consider getting a larger pot to accommodate your plant’s growing roots. Do this if you notice your azaleas growing faster than you expected.

Repotting is also good if you received azaleas from a friend or bought them from the store. In general, azaleas obtained in this manner have pots that are smaller than they need. Pots that are too small are a common cause of azaleas wilting and dying a month after taking them indoors.

Prepare the new pot in the same way you would prepare your soil for your other azaleas. Use the appropriate mixture of sand and mulch.

Next, remove the plant from its original pot. Never pull the entire plant out in one swoop because this may damage the roots. Instead, turn your pot upside-down and slowly shake your azalea off. This is easier for store-bought azaleas because many have a thin layer of plastic between the pot and the soil.

Settle the azalea inside the new pot and cover its roots with loose soil. To encourage good air circulation, avoid packing the soil too much. Proper planting also improves water drainage and prevents drowning the roots. Place a layer of mulch on top of the soil mixture but avoid placing mulch one inch around the stem.

Have a Regular Watering Schedule

Underwatering is the most common cause of withering azaleas. Too little water will cause both the soil and the root ball to dry out quickly, stopping the plant from absorbing nutrients effectively.

When this happens, water the plant immediately. Establish a routine to check for soil moisture and to water the plant when the need arises.

To rehydrate the plant, immerse the entire pot in lukewarm water until air bubbles rise to the surface. Lift the pot out of the water once air bubbles stop forming.

Azaleas as Houseplants: Tips and Troubleshooting

Reblooming

There will be a decreased need for water during fall and winter. However, the demand will increase again as soon as buds start to emerge and bloom.

Encourage the buds to bloom by exposing the plant to warm daytime temperatures. The ideal temperature is somewhere between 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. If you want to accelerate this process further, consider building a greenhouse simulating the effect. If your azalea’s buds still fail to rebloom, keep the temperature at the recommended level for at least six consecutive weeks.

Dropping buds

This problem typically happens during dry seasons because not enough nutrients get to the buds. Another possible cause is bug infestation.

Inspect the rest of your azalea once you see buds dropping. Remove the affected buds from the entire plant and spray horticultural oil after.

Flower buds not opening

azaleas bud

This issue typically occurs during the summer. Lightly spray the buds with water to help encourage shoot and root growth. Don’t do this once the flower starts blooming, as this may cause rotting and detachment.

Pest infestations

Various insects can affect how your azaleas grow. In worst-case scenarios, these pests can reach your plant’s roots and kill it altogether. Here are some of the most common bugs that harm azaleas and information on how to deal with them:

  • Leaf miners: If you notice strange and unsightly yellow lines on your azalea’s leaves, check your plant’s upper and lower leaves for small, black flies and their larva. Regularly pruning your plant can help with this problem. You may also spray the surface of the plant with horticultural oil to prevent them from coming back.
  • Lace bugs: Among all the common bugs that affect azaleas, lace bugs seem to be the most prevalent. A sign of a lace bug infestation is black, yellow, or white spots at the bottom of your plant’s leaves. Prevent this problem by spraying the plant with insecticidal soap during late spring or autumn.
  • Bark scale: If you see cotton-like formations or soot-like mold forming on any part of your plant, it may be this bug. Bark scales typically stay on branches and their joints. Treat this immediately by getting rid of the affected branches and applying horticultural oil to the rest of the plant.

Azaleas as Houseplants and Fungal Diseases

Azaleas may encounter bouts of fungal diseases during their lifespan. Some of these problems include leaf gall, petal blight, and rust. Remedy this by spraying fungicide during the late spring and end the cycle during autumn or by removing affected parts.

FAQs for Azaleas as Houseplants

Most azalea varieties do not come alive after a few months if left on their own. However, the Encore variety can grow back every year. They tend to have their leaves back during the spring. In some cases, the leaves emerge as early as autumn.

If you want to ensure your plant’s survival during these times, make sure to prune them as early as mid-summer. Also, keep them away from extreme weather conditions as much as possible.

Azaleas prefer indirect sunlight. The ideal condition is indirect sun exposure during cool mornings. While it can tolerate direct sunlight, it’s best to keep it at one to two hours. At the most, they should be exposed only up to four hours.

Yellowing leaves can be a manifestation of different plant-related problems. Determine the cause before treating the plant with the first thing you can get your hands on. Check for the presence of bugs on leaves, branches, and roots. See if the soil needs some iron-rich fertilizer. Assess if the plant is receiving adequate sunlight. Check the soil pH, water alkalinity, and if water is draining correctly. After pinpointing the cause, act accordingly.

Water the plant immediately and keep its soil and compost moist all the time. If you already have a regular watering schedule and it doesn’t solve the problem, check the water. If you’re living in an area with hard water, consider using distilled water or rainwater. Hard water can cause the soil to turn alkaline and can prevent the plant from thriving. If your plant has lost more than 30% of its usual number of leaves, consider discarding it because the damage is irreversible.

Yes. Azaleas reek of poison from their flowers’ honey, thus the nickname “mad honey.” Pets are primarily at risk of azalea poisoning. While severe effects of poisoning may be rare, it’s safe to be careful and keep your azaleas away from your pets’ reach.

Azaleas prefer indirect sunlight. The ideal condition is indirect sun exposure during cool mornings. While it can tolerate direct sunlight, it’s best to keep it at one to two hours. At the most, they should be exposed only up to four hours.

Make sure to subject your plant to indirect sunlight at least six hours a day. Doing this is essential to prevent the leaves from yellowing. However, avoid leaving the plant by the window during the night if you live in a colder climate. Temperature drops may cause damage to the plant.

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