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I’m a big fan of azaleas, but I usually grow mine in pots as I think they’re perfect for pots and being a little tender in harsh winters, it makes them easier to provide them with a little winter protection. They also grow well just remember that ericaceous compost.
I have successfully grown azaleas in pots for years, and they do very well. They are also a good option if the soil in your garden isn’t of the acidic type that azaleas prefer, and they also grow well in semi-shade positions which is good if you have a shady area in your garden.
Here are the main things that you should know if you grow azaleas in pots.
Choosing the pot for azaleas
The pot material can be of any type – ceramic, terracotta or plastic. Personally, I always go for terracotta or ceramic pots. This is because ceramic and terracotta planters are heavy and won’t tip over if the azalea becomes top heavy, which they can once in full flower and in taller pots. However, it’s difficult to make extra drainage holes in the bottom of them if you need to add more drainage so just be sure it’s got enough holes and that you use some broken crockery in the bottom of the pot to stop it from getting blocked.
Plastic pots are lightweight and you may need to weigh them down with stones in the bottom of them. Making additional drainage holes is easier in these containers as you can pretty much use any drill bit.
Azaleas are shallow-rooted plants so you don’t need a very deep pot. For small plants, choose a container that’s at least 30cm deep and 40cm in diameter but don’t be afraid to go larger if you buy an established azalea in a larger 2/3 litre pot. This gives the azalea room to grow without it being swamped with extra space.
Soil / Growing medium – Must be ericaceous compost
Azaleas like a well-drained and acidic soil. As you’re growing them in a pots you have control over their growing medium/compost. Choose a light potting mix, mixed with ericaceous (acidic) compost. Mix in extra vermiculite if you need the soil to drain better. You can also use a soiled based compost such as John Innes ericaceous compost mixed with plenty of grit. I prefer this as it is heavier and retains moisture well.
Planting the azalea
Azaleas in pots need good drainage. Place a layer of broken crockery or medium size stones in the base of the container. Then cover this with the growing medium (ericaceous compost) until you can place your azalea in the pot with the top of the azalea root ball being an inch under the rim of the pot.
Putting it in the soil any deeper than this could cause issues. Now simply backfill around the root ball with compost firming it down but not too compact. Cover the top of the root ball lightly with some more growing medium.
Water the azalea in well. Make sure that the water is draining out the bottom of the pot. If the root ball is dry before planting, also make sure to soak it for 30 minutes before planting.
The pot’s location
Azaleas in pots grow best outdoors although you can grow some more tender and smaller varieties indoors. Situate the pot in dappled shade where the plant receives some morning sun. Place the container out of the wind and away from any cold spots in your garden.
Growing azaleas in pots indoors is not a simple matter of taking the pot into your living space. Azaleas grown for indoor spaces are especially forced to flower out of season and take some looking after throughout the year. In particular, outdoor azaleas can become prone to pest infestations when moved indoors. It’s best to keep them outside.
I usually give my azalea a feed in later winter or early spring and sometimes after they have finished flowering. You can use any ericaceous feed labelled for acid loving plants. I also remove the top inch of compost in spring and replace it with new compost. You can learn more about feeding azaleas here.
Azaleas don’t really need pruning. However, if you want to keep them to a certain shape or size, you can prune them, but it’s important you only lightly prune them as soon as they finish flowering. You can learn more about pruning azaleas here.
Azaleas are winter hardy. However, I usually provide my azaleas with a little extra protection if it’s going to get very cold. You can wrap the pots in lagging or bubble wrap to protect the roots and then cover the plant with a fleece jacket or simply wrap them loosely in fleece to protect the foliage. If you have a greenhouse, you can also move them into the greenhouse over winter. I have a guide on azalea winter care here.
Care of azaleas
The other articles in this series cover how to maintain your azalea in good health. Read Azalea diseases and pests covers the major infestations that this plant can have, and How to revive a dying azalea helps you determine if you have a problem with your plant and what to do about it.