HomePlant Guide: Azalea

Plant Guide:Azalea

Pop an indoor azalea in your home and it's guaranteed to bring a joyous splash of colour. Delivering a riot of flowers, you can get it in shades that go from a rich red all the way through to the unusual purple, soothing coral or even baby soft pink. If you want something a bit simpler, you can also opt for a white azalea plant. In fact, this house plant delivers so many flowers, you’ll barely see the leaves underneath - what a welcoming sight!

Fancy giving one of these as a present? We’ve got the perfect reason. In China, azaleas are said to stand for womanhood. We’re all for a bit of girl-power so why not give one of these flowering house plants to your besties for a bit of plant power. Azaleas are also called the ‘I’m thinking of home’ shrub – a perfect choice if you’ve left home and want to tell your parents just how much you miss. Pop over to Japan and giving someone an azalea is a symbol of giving happiness; a thoughtful choice to send if you want to send someone a pick-me-up.

With an interesting history, let us tell you a bit more about the amazing azalea plant.

Difference Between Azalea And Rhododendron

Ever heard someone calling an azalea a rhododendron, and vice versa?

The confusion comes from the fact that when they were first classified, azaleas were put into their own group. Over time and after a lot of testing, botanists realised they actually belonged to the same family - rhododendrons. You can think of the azalea as a younger sibling of the rhododendron.

If you’re not sure which one you’ve got, there are some key differences that will help you spot which plant is which.


The Size

The first is size. Azaleas are usually smaller of the two, although be careful as there is a variety called the Dwarf Rhododendron which may confuse things.


The Flowers

You can also look at the shape of the flowers. Rhododendrons usually have larger flowers which are typically bell-like in shape, while azalea blooms are like tubes. You’ll also notice that only one flower appears on the end of an azalea stem while rhododendrons produce a cluster.


The Leaves

Still not sure whether you have an azalea or rhododendron? Take a look at the leaves. The leaves on an azalea will feel soft, while the ones on a rhododendron are leathery or scaly underneath.


The Stamen

Finally, have a look at the flower and you’ll see little stamen coming from the centre. If there are less than 10 it’s an azalea, more than this and you’ve got a rhododendron.

History Of The Azalea Plant

Did you know that the original azalea plants have been around for over 70 million years? That means they were around when dinosaurs were walking the earth! How the azaleas we know and love today went from the dinosaurs to being in our home is a little hazy. It is believed the plant came from Asia where Buddhist monks first cultivated it. In fact, the seeds they produced are the origins of hundreds of hybrid varieties still around today.

The plant it said to have most likely made its way over to Europe during the days of the Dutch East Indies Company, first going to Netherlands before finally hitting our shores. We can thank the famous botanist Carl Linnaeus for giving this plant its name. He first published the name ‘Azalea’ in 1735 in his ‘Systema Naturae’ which is taken from the Greek word azaleos. The word means dry and actually refers to the Laplandic version of this flower which is found growing in dry and rocky locations.


Types Of Azalea

If you’re looking to get an azalea it’s worth knowing that they fall into two categories. The first are plants that lose their leaves when winter arrives – they’re called deciduous. The other group are the evergreen azalea which keep their leaves all year round. This lot are slower growing and make an excellent choice as house plants or for growing in containers.

Common house plants are usually the Indian azalea variety. A good example is the Azalea Flandresse which delivers a shot of colour with flowers in bubble gum pink, hot red or salmon pink.

If you fancy growing some in a pot outside your door, you may want to choose Azalea Japonica, also known as Japanese Azalea. Usually evergreen, this is a compact plant that is available in a wide range of colours. Some beautiful examples include Azalea Mother’s Day which produces bright red semi-double flowers, or Irohayama which has white trumpet-shaped flowers edged with mauve.


Where To Place An Azalea Plant In Your Home

Fancy putting one of these pocket rockets of colour into your home? This one can be a bit tricky to keep happy indoors but there are a few steps to help it along. A bit like Goldilocks this plant wants to a spot that is just right. Place it in direct light and it will burn but if it ends up in a dark corner it won’t be happy. Go for somewhere bright but not sat in the full sun or anywhere too hot (ideally not over 25°C). You should also avoid anywhere draughty, otherwise the flowers may start to fall off.

If you’ve managed to grow an abundance of flowers why not cut some off the plant and display in a vase around the home. To keep them looking at their best cut your blooms when they are at their peak. Cut the stem at an angle using clean scissors and strip off any leaves that sit below the water line. Fill your vase with clean, room temperature water and then arrange. Remember to change the water every couple of days.


Azalea Plant Care

You’ve found the perfect spot, now for watering tips. To keep your azalea happy make sure you water regularly and give a feed with plant food every month. The best way to water your plant is to sit the pot in a container of water (just make sure there are holes in the bottom of the container!), wait until the plant has had a good drink and then let excess water drain out.

One of the biggest problems with looking after an azalea plant is getting the flowers to grow again the following year. With a little bit of work and perseverance, it is possible to develop a gorgeous houseplant year after year – a perfect gift that keeps on giving.

When your plant gets to the end of the flowering season (at the beginning of autumn) remove all the dead flowers. Place your houseplant in a cooler spot – about 5°C lower than the summer temperature. At the same time reduce your watering and feeding regime. You can also give your plant a tidy and cut back any over-long shoots. Just make sure you don’t go into the old wood otherwise the stems may not grow back. When the new buds start to appear you’ll need to pick up the pace again. Move your plant back into a warmer room and increase watering and feeding.

Every few years repot your azalea. Don’t go too big on the pot, these plants actually work better when you squeeze the roots - believe it or not, it encourages them to grow flowers.


Are Azaleas Toxic To Pets?

Now, a word of warning about this plant, it is toxic to pets when eaten. All parts of the plant are poisonous, from the leaves to the petals and even the pollen. It’s all down to the fact that the plant contains a neurotoxin called grayanotoxin and eating even a few leaves can leave your cat or dog vomiting. Best not to send an azalea if you know someone has a furry friend.

Azaleas and rhododendrons were notorious for their poisonous nature to such an extent that receiving a bunch of these flowers in a black vase was widely recognised as a death threat. But the toxic trait doesn’t stop there. Bees in Turkey love this plant and happily collect the nectar from an azalea to make their honey. However one of the problems is that, in the process, the toxicity from the plant transfers into the honey. It has even earned the name mad honey and eating it can cause confusion or even death - this honey is the reason for most reported cases of poisoning in Turkey! Unbelievably this hasn’t stopped it being used for medicinal purposes, apparently it relieves hypertension.


Add a pop of colour to your home or theirs with an indoor azalea plant.