BRIAN KIDD: I fell in love with azaleas at cinema

Madame Petrick - the cause of a love affair with azaleas

Madame Petrick - the cause of a love affair with azaleas

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Thank you very much indeed for all your Christmas cards. Pam and I wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy and healthy new year.

A couple of readers, Ethel who lives at Cosham and Len from Denmead, have asked me what is my favourite indoor winter flowering pot plant?

That’s easy, thanks to a very happy childhood with a lovely mum and dad.

One of the best flowering plants for growing indoors in winter are azaleas. They’re easy to grow, but only flourish in acid soil. If you don’t know what I mean, an acid soil is one which doesn’t have any chalk or lime in it.

Chalk kills azaleas. Even a small amount in tap water will cause the leaves to turn yellow and they could even die.

My first encounter with an azalea was when I was a little boy, about 10. My mum and dad took me to the cinema at Cosham when it was called the Carlton.

We had to queue for a long time, but mum left us for a few minutes to go over the road to a florist’s where she saw an azalea called Madame Petrick.

It was in a five-inch diameter pot, the flowers were pink with a white fringe – it was just wonderful. My dad bought it for her and it was 15 shillings which was a lot of money in those days (75p now).

Azaleas are back in the garden centres, supermarkets and flower shops. These are dwarf evergreens and very popular. They make great presents, are easy to grow, love rain water and dry out very quickly.

They will grow in a room without any heat, in fact rooms which are hot cause the flowers to be short-lived. They do, however, like lots of light, not direct sunshine but a north-facing window is paradise.

Watering with rain water is ideal, so save it. There’s plenty of it about and instead of watering once a week, always feel the surface of the compost and if it feels dry give the plant a good soak.

It is important to remove the dead flowers regularly, together with the seed head behind the dead bloom.

The reason for this is because the two new shoots which appear will each produce another flower during winter the following year.

Feeding starts in March, just once a month using a liquid fertiliser formulated for tomatoes. Tomorite or Maxicrop for tomatoes are both suitable.

Repotting is done once a year in April choosing an ericaceous potting compost. Water the plant well the day before to ensure the root is wet. The plant may either be left indoors in that north-facing window or put in the garden remembering it needs to be watered.

In September it is brought back indoors after giving it a good shake to remove dead leaves.

Many of you tell me you have azaleas in bloom for up to 12 weeks.

TIP OF THE WEEK

If you have a real Christmas tree it will need water even if it has no root. There are water retainers to do this job which you’ll find at garden centres. Make sure there is a tray beneath the pot or mum will be cross when there is a brown mark on the carpet after the holiday. Before adding water take the plug out of the wall!

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