Encore Azaleas, with their continuous flowering from spring to fall, have become THE most popular azalea in warmer states, displacing the older types, that only flower in spring. Not only are the Encore Azaleas beautiful, they are also vigorous and fast-growing, typically adding 12 inches a year, and soon becoming large plants. Their final size depends on the type you choose but can be anything from 2½ to 5 feet tall.
Everyone wants to grow these beauties, but of course not everyone can, because they are limited by winter hardiness or the soil conditions in their garden. Most Encore Azaleas are only hardy to zone 7, although some will grow well in sheltered spots in zone 6. Like other azaleas, they need acidic soil, and although you can, with a lot of effort, grow them in neutral soils, if your soil does not suit, basically you are out of luck – at least you might think you are.
There is a solution to these problems, that anyone, anywhere, can do, and that is to grow these lovely plants in pots or planters. In any kind of container, it is easy to control the soil conditions, and if you have somewhere suitable to keep them during the coldest weeks of the year, then wherever you live you can enjoy the months of flowering these gorgeous plants bring you. Let’s look at the simple steps to successfully growing Encore Azaleas in pots, so that everyone can easily have these wonderful plants in their gardens. Here at The Tree Center we specialize in them, and you can check out our mouthwatering selection for this year on our web-site. Feast your eyes, then read on to see how easy it all is. . .
Choose the Right Container
The first step in successfully growing Encore Azaleas in pots is to choose suitable containers. It is fortunate that azaleas have fine, fibrous root systems, because it means they will live happily in pots for years and years. Even large bushes thrive in them, but you will need to move young plants up into larger pots as they grow. The root system is shallow, so broad, shallower pots are best, rather than deep, narrow ones. A good size is where the height is two-thirds of the diameter of the pot – these are even called ‘azalea pots’. Simple clay pots are best, because the soil absorbs more oxygen for the roots, but they do need to be watered more often, so if you are not able to do that, plastic pots are fine too. You can put a simple pot inside a slightly larger ornamental one for a more decorative look.
The vital thing about any pots you use, or any planters you use, is that they must have drainage holes – at least one large one. This is essential, and you cannot grow azaleas in pots without drainage.
Use the Right Soil
You are using a pot because your garden soil is not suitable, right? So it follows that you need to use a suitable soil – one that is acidic. You can buy at your local garden center or hardware potting soils labelled for acid-loving plants. This is the soil to use, NOT regular potting soil for houseplants or other shrubs. Buy a good-quality soil, not something cut-price – your plants are going to be in it for their whole lives, so give them a good start.
Pot Them the Right Way
When you buy your new Encore Azaleas, you may be able to grow them in the existing pots for the first season. If the pot looks small for the amount of foliage – they should be about the same volume – then plant into a new pot right away. Soak the plant the night before potting and cover the drainage hole with a single stone or piece of broken pot. Do not put a layer of gravel, stones or charcoal in the bottom – it will reduce the soil available for the roots, and it does NOT ‘improve drainage’.
Put a layer of new potting soil over the bottom of the pot, slide the plant out of its pot, and place it in the center, so that the existing soil level is a little less than one inch below the rim of the pot. There should be no more than 2 or 3 inches a space left around the plant to fill with new soil – don’t plant into pots that are a lot bigger than the existing one. Fill with soil around the plant, press it lightly down around the roots, leaving an inch of space above the soil to make watering easier. Water thoroughly and you are done. There should be just a very thin layer of new soil over the top of the old rootball.
Every year, or every second year as the plants grow older, move into a larger pot in early spring, before the new growth begins. Once the pot is large you can re-pot into the same pot by taking an large kitchen fork and scrapping an inch or two or old soil off the root ball, and trimming the roots a little, before potting back into the cleaned pot.
Feed Them the Right Way
Start feeding as soon as you have re-potted your Encore Azalea. Buy a liquid fertilizer designed for azaleas and Rhododendrons and follow the directions carefully. Usually you will feed in early spring, before flowering, and once a month until mid-fall, but some instructions may differ. Don’t use other kinds of general fertilizers, but only something for azaleas.
Water Them the Right Way
Watering is the key to a long and successful life for your Encore Azalea growing in a pot. Always water thoroughly, and never leave them standing in a saucer of water, especially if you are using plastic pots. It is OK to leave them in a full saucer if you are going away for a week, and are worried they will get too dry, but not as a regular habit – the roots will rot. Always water thoroughly, so that some excess water or fertilizer liquid flows out of the drainage holes. Water again once you see the top of the soil is looking dry, but not if it isn’t. This could be every day or two in mid-summer, and once a week or less in winter. Let the soil be your guide, not the time.
Treat Them Right in Winter
Encore Azaleas like more sun than other azaleas, and one of the advantages of growing in a pot is that you can move them around to get the best conditions. Full sun from fall the early summer, and morning sun in summer is ideal, but they are adaptable, and they will grow in partial shade very well.
If you are in a colder zone, then you can bring your plants indoors when the temperature is approaching freezing and keep them indoors until it warms up again. The ideal place is a cold, well-lit porch or glassed-in terrace that is about 40 degrees, and not hot. Cool is important, as you cannot keep your plants in a hot room for more than a few days. If you have such a space, there is no limit to being able to grow these great plants – simply bring them in during the cold periods and grow them outdoors for the rest of the year.
It’s easy to grow Encore Azaleas in pots, so no you have no reason to miss out on the beauty of these fabulous plants in your garden – enjoy!