NEWLY PURCHASED PLANTS
To the many of you who have asked questions regarding store bought H. Many stores buy their stock from wholesale nurseries that force the plants to have blooms early without having enough root system to support good growth of the stems and leaves - they are much easier to sell with blooms on them - money talks. Also these same plants are often shipped in a light material that I have heard they can't even call soil. This makes the shipping costs less - money talks.
Here is my recommendation when you purchase or receive plants like these - especially those in the one gallon containers. Enjoy the blooms for a few days, perhaps over Mother's Day or a birthday, or some short period of time.
Within a couple of weeks, put the plant into good soil in the ground. Always make your hole 2-3 times the size of the container and fill with top/potting soil and a good share of peat moss. Don't remove the "soil" that is already in the pots, just be sure to loosen the root ball if it is bound up at all. The plant should end up mounded a little bit above the level ground, 1/2 to 1 inch.
Remove maybe half the blooms, if there are only one or two remove them. Water the plant thoroughly. Don't fertilize yet.
Watch the plant over the next couple of weeks. If you see signs of leaves getting brown or other distress (and you have given it sufficient water to keep the ground damp, but not too moist to cause rot), then try cutting back a couple of the stems a few inches. Take only a little bit at a time. What you are doing is trying to balance the usage of the water and nutrients above ground with the intake of the water and nutrients below ground. Remember the root system may not be strong enough to support the stems and leaves.
After the plant has been balanced and looks healthy for a couple of weeks, fertilize lightly (half the recommended strength or less) with an acid friendly fertilizer such as Miracle Grow For Azeleas. (This was called was Miracle Acid - but I think they suspected some of us 60's hippies were trying to smoke it :')
For the first year or two, it is much more important to develop strong stems and healthy leaves. Fertilizing for blooms, pruning and other TLC to grow bigger healthier blooms should be delayed until year 3 or so when the plant has matured.
Note, in my opinion, many nurseries and garden centers often seem to have healthier plants than those from the big chains. Also, if you want to buy H. with a longer term gardening interest rather than a shorter term decoration interest, be sure to purchase the three year old plants typically in three to five gallon containers rather than the 1-2 year old plants in the gallon containers. You will generally have a bigger root system, more balanced with the stems and leaves.
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