The quality of the land, the amount of sunshine after the growing season, the room temperature and watering are the main parameters to take into account and to optimize for the azalea to develop correctly. Also, azalea and rhododendron can both be made into bonsai. Diligent pruning will then complete the list of care and maintenance that azaleas require. However, be careful when handling azalea because every part of this plant is toxic.

Azalea and rhododendron are native to Asia and North America. They are among the most beautiful ornamental shrubs and they brighten up gardens and balconies with their vivid colours.

Like other plants of the same genus, rhododendron enjoys acid soils with a pH of 5. If the soil in your garden does not reach this ideal level of acidity, you can either add peat or heath earth. If, however, the soil is clayey, mix planting soil mix with sand for better drainage. And if your soil is too sandy, add a mixture of peat and heath earth. This mixture will effectively retain water if it is extremely hot. In short, clean and humus-bearing soil is the ideal type of land for growing azaleas. In contrast, azaleas generally do not like substantial fertilizer supplies, especially given the fact that too much fertilizer can burn the plants. However it is recommended to amend the soil to stimulate flowering. Make sure that the planting soil is moist at all times without exaggerating the amount of water at the risk of causing the azalea’s roots rot on the spot. In addition, hard water should not be used for irrigation. During the flowering period, it is enough to moisten the root ball. If you wish, you can also completely dip the flower pot in a bowl of water. You can plant and repot azaleas at any time. Nevertheless, October and April are the best months to ensure adequate growth resumption. One last tip for planting: do not bury the azaleas at the bottom of the pot.

Pruning and maintaining rhododendron bonsai

Azalea, used as interior decoration, is pruned so as to give it the shape of a dwarf tree. Its dense foliage consists of 1-inch (2.5 cm) long rigid and oval leaves. Its slow growth rate allows you to make it into a bonsai, especially given the fact that its natural bearing is well-balanced. To transform your azalea into a bonsai, it is best to seek the advice of a professional. But you can also try on your own at home. To do this, first trim the parts located closest to the base of the azalea. Take the opportunity to remove wilted flowers and leaves. Pinch the stamens with your fingernails or a pair of pliers. Do the same for all branches, including suckers as well as those bending towards the main stem.  The same procedure will be applied to branches leaning towards the base or the top of the azalea. After fifteen to thirty days, you will see new shoots emerge. If the apex of a few leaves have dried up, you can repot otherwise, as these leaves will fall off early in the fall. Once the bonsai’s flowering has ceased, you can remove the wilted flowers and place the azalea in a dark and cool place. Then, cut off the nasty stems to encourage a renewal of branches. Finally, place the pot on a bed of clay pellets or small stones so that there is enough moisture present at root level, being careful not to exceed a temperature of 61 ° F (16 ° C), otherwise the azalea’s roots dry out and its leaves and flowers fall off.

Propagating azalea

The taking of azalea cuttings allows you to obtain several new shoots. Take healthy cuttings that are between 2 and 3 inches (5 cm and 7.5 cm) long.  Then, dip the base of each cutting in rooting hormone. Carry on by planting each cutting separately in 3-inch (8cm) deep plastic cups that will have been previously filled with a wet mixture of sand and peat. Complete the process by covering everything with cellophane plastic wrap. A seedling tray for propagation would be ideal. Keep the cuttings in a room at mild temperature and away from the light. The roots of each cutting will take hold after 8 to 12 weeks. But you can also layer azalea between fall and spring or sow its seeds as soon as they reach maturity.

Protecting azalea against pests and diseases

It is known that excessive heat weakens the azalea, causing its roots to dry out and consequently leading to a diminished flowering. But chlorosis is just as dangerous to the azalea’s health. This disease comes from excessive amounts of lime in the water or growing medium, resulting then in a yellowing or discolouration of the leaves and shoots. In that case, water azaleas with non-mineral water. Rain water should be avoided. If needed, you can also add chelated iron to the irrigation water, or choose a fertilizer intended for calcifuges. To treat an invasion of aphids, which are very fond of azalea seedlings, regularly spray the plant with insecticide. In case of red spiders, malathion or derris will do the trick. A good levelof humidity in the atmosphere can prevent an arachnid attack.

Toxicity of rhododendrons

Certain rhododendron species are poisonous and can cause respiratory, digestive or intestinal disorders. The symptoms are characterized by vomiting, nausea, hypotension or diarrhoea. In the language of flowers, rhododendron is used to express danger precisely because of its toxicity.

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Published in Spring flowers by Alexander on 31 Aug 2011