I live in Norfolk in the UK where the winters are cold, wet, and dismal with mud up to one's neck... I have just purchased some lovely azalea houseplants and I wonder if anyone could tell me the best way to keep them flowering over the winter, because the only houseplants I have had any success at all with have been cactus and succulents - and I have a good many of THEM. I do not have any nets at the windows and I think the zone I live in is 9a or 9b, though I may be wrong. My Christmas Cactus is already in flower and has been for a month, but instead of being red this year it is white.
Any help would be most appreciated, particularly since I don't want to lose them. Last year my african violet and cyclamen plants died on me...
Here are some suggestion from the Azalea Society of America. The plant that you have purchased sounds like a Florist Azalea, which most people keep inside the homes.
Some varieties of evergreen azaleas are grown for sale by florists in full bloom at almost any time of the year. Try to find out the variety of your gift azalea, and look it up in a reference book or in the azalea database, to see if it is cold-hardy in your area (most of them can't stand a frost). If it is, enjoy it inside until spring and then plant it outside in a part-sun, part-shade place in the garden (see planting azaleas). If you want to prune it, do that soon after it blooms, to avoid cutting off the buds for next year's blooms.
While it is in the house, remove its pretty paper wrapper, and water it deeply and infrequently. A good way is to soak it in a tub of water until the bubbles stop, and then let it drain out the excess water. Do this about once a week. Exactly how often depends on its potting mix and the temperature and humidity of the room. The goal is to have moist soil, rather than having it either saturated or dry for more than a few hours at a time. Keeping it in a cool area of the house will lengthen the bloom period. Putting the pot on or near a saucer of water and gravel will raise the humidity and help it hold its leaves.
If the azalea is not cold-hardy, you can plant it outside after the last frost, still in the pot, with the rim of the pot even with the soil level, or use it as a potted plant. Remember to water it, as the roots can only get the water in the pot. Bring it back into the house during the winter as a potted plant, and put it in the coolest part of the house during the winter.
If it will be staying in the pot, fertilize it lightly every month or so through the fall, with a fertilizer low in nitrogen and high in phosporus to promote root and bud growth without promoting plant and leaf growth. Then let it rest during the winter, but don't forget to water it. Also, carefully remove it from the pot every six months or so to check the roots. If you see fine roots circling the root ball, put it into another pot, 2 to 4 inches (5-10 cm)wider than the old pot. Before repotting it, cut those circling roots by making top-to-bottom cuts every few inches, all the way around the root ball. A good potting mix is a 50/50 mixture of potting soil and fine pine bark."
While the azalea is blooming, you do not need to fertilize it but keep it close to a window where it can receive at least 4 hours of indirect bright sunlight per day. Try to keep temperatures as close to "ideal" as you can: night temperatures between 45° and 55° F (7-13 C) and day temperatures that do not exceed 68° F (20 C).
Larayne66 Immingham, Near Grim United Kingdom (Zone 9a)
Thanks for your help. I don't know about them (there are two) being florists azaleas but they are are certainly different to the one I have growing in the garden. I bought them at a garden centre about two weeks ago, and there were no gift wrappings. However, my house is heated by electric storage heaters and is very warm - at least 70 degrees f. David says it is like a hot house. I am getting an orchid on the way back home next Friday - I am in East Yorkshire UK at the moment.
I must go, as I don't feel very well today, and am going back to bed
Most azaleas bloom from March thru mid-summer at the latest. The one exception are rebloomers with the brand name of Encore Azaleas and very few other ones. These are sold through local nurseries and some mail order nurseries, not at grocery stores. If you come across azaleas blooming at grocery stores during "abnormal" times of the year, the azaleas are probably what the Azalea Society of America calls "florist azaleas".
Some florist azaleas can be planted outside where they can thrive but it is hard to tell because the labels on some florist plant do not indicate on what zone you can do this.
For example, if your zone is 7 but the plant can be planted only in Zone 8 and warmer then you should keep the plant indoords and grow it in a pot. When temperatures normally stay above freezing, you can leave it outside where it gets morning sun until 11am or 12pm. Then in the Fall, when the danger of freezing temperatures returns, you can bring it inside but place it where it gets the same amount of sun indirectly. I find that you can also safely give them direct sun too but just 2 hours or so. It seems 4 hours dries the soil too fast.
Also, remember that houses do not have much humidity these days so try to keep the pot away from air conduits. I once dried out a fern quite fast because the air from the air conditioner was blowing into it and I did not discover this because the a/c would be off when I normally checked the fern. Big OOOPS!