Gardening From Alaska

...cyclamen, azaleas, mums
by Jeff Lowenfels
by Jeff Lowenfels


Jeff is the Past President of the Garden Writers of America, a columnist with the Anchorage Daily News, Host Alaska Gardens and Supporter of Plant a Row.

November 6, 2005

This is the time of year to buy azaleas, cyclamen and mums. All three will flower at least through the fall if given just a little bit of special care. What is more, you can keep these plants over during the summer months and, again if treated properly, they will bloom again the following year.

Let’s start with azaleas, relatives to more showy and larger rhododendrons. Where I grew up red and white flowering azaleas were used everywhere as foundation plantings. Mixed in with rhododendrons to provide texture and because both plants like acidic soils, no one gave them much thought. Here you should.

Starting this time of year and lasting for about three or four weeks, azaleas in bud or bloom are on sale at local nurseries, plant departments and florists. These, of course, are treated as indoor plants. They should bloom for up to a month.

Since these azaleas are already in bud, they don’t require bright sun, only good light, the best you have if you don’t use lights, indirect light if you do. They should never be exposed to temperatures above 68 degrees, cooler is better. Because of these two requirements, up against a south-facing window is ideal.

Most important, the soil should never be allowed to dry out. Finally, like most indoor plants, azaleas do not appreciate a draft and will drop leaves, buds and blossoms if exposed to one.

If you have an azalea from last year and it hasn’t set buds, it is probably because you did let your plant dry out, you didn’t keep it cool or you may have fertilized it with an alkaline fertilizer. Once plants finish blooming, fertilize with either a fungal compost tea or an acidic fertilizer such as Miracid at 1/3 dilution until it is time to set new buds. For this year, put the plant in a room where the temperature drops at night and see if you can set some buds.

After the plant finishes blooming, make sure to continue to water. You can trim back your plant at this time. Fertilize or apply compost tea. You can put the plant outdoors in the spring. The natural cooling at night will help set buds for next year. Repot every two or three years as needed.

Next, potted cyclamens are for sale locally this time of year. These flowering corms are the best plants I know for blooming in cool rooms. In fact, cyclamens actually prefer temperatures between 55 and 60 degrees. They also require good light, again the best you have including artificial light and their soil should never dry out while the plants are in bloom. After Christmas, fertilize with a balanced indoor plant formula, worm castings or a bacterial compost tea.

Cyclamen produce red, white or pink blooms all winter long if you pick off the spent blooms at their base. When you water, water the soil around the corm, not on top of it and use warm water. This spring withhold water and let the plant go dormant. Then keep it in a cool, dark location for the summer. Bring it out again this time of year, repot it in new soil and start the cycle over again.

If yours doesn’t bloom this year, it is most probably because you did not give it a cool resting place for long enough. You can start now and try the plant again just after Christmas.

Finally, this is the start of the chrysanthemum season and you will find potted mums with all sorts of flower styles and colors. These are probably best treated as “annuals” and tossed after they finish flowering, though it is possible to keep the going for a few years.

Indoors, mums need temperatures between 55 and 65 degrees. They, too, should never be allowed to dry out. Their soil must be moist at all times. Most important is the light they receive. These really do need bright light to continue to flower, more than you can really provide on a windowsill. The unopened buds need to start to produce pigment before they will open and will drop off it they don’t get enough light so they can do so.

None of these plants is expensive. All three will provide flowers. Buy some of the other suggestions I will make over the course of the next few months and you will have flowers all winter long.

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