How our Azaleas are raised
"How do you start azaleas?" is one of the questions we are asked most frequently. The short answer is "cuttings", but this is a more complete explanation.
Nearly all azaleas grown today are hybrids, meaning they have been 'crossed' from other varieties and so they carry traits from any plants, (other hybrids or species) which were used in their parentage. Azaleas grown from seed, therefore, will each be unique but not necessarily desirable. The majority will revert back to a rather muddy purple with bad growth habits. Growing azaleas from seed is exciting because there is always the chance of developing a 'keeper', but it is definitely not the way to produce saleable plants.
To produce a quantity of plants of the same variety it is necessary to take cuttings from the parent plant. Cuttings are taken at the end of July when the current year's growth has hardened-off. A piece of the stem, about 3 inches long, is cut and all but the top tuft of leaves is stripped from it. About 150 cuttings are 'stuck' in rows in flats filled with a mix of peat moss and perlite. They are kept in a lathe building out of direct sunlight and are misted every two hours during daylight to keep them from wilting. In about six weeks they will develop fine, white hair-roots and then the misting schedule is gradually adjusted to less frequent mistings.
By mid-October they are ready to be transplanted into beds in the heated greenhouse. They are planted about four inches apart and kept watered and weeded. This greenhouse is heated with two coal stoves. Any other type of heat requires electric to operate and we frequently lose electric service during winter storms. Walking to the greenhouse five times a day and carrying coal in and ashes out is fine winter excercise!
About the beginning of February the transplanted cuttings begin to put out new growth and open flowers from buds which were set by the parent plant before the cuttings were taken. Everyone who sees them is amazed at three inch azaleas blooming. They continue to grow for the next several months and by the middle of May are ready to be moved outdoors into long beds where they will spend the summer. Here they are kept watered, weeded and fertilized and grow quickly. In September they are all dug and replanted into another greenhouse which is not heated but provides protection from the wind during their second winter. In the spring they are ready to sell.