By Mary-Kate Mackey
With their compact stature, and repeat blooms, many Encore®Azaleas can thrive in containers up and down the West Coast. Here are some practicalities for successful container culture.
Pot size matters. Too small, and the roots quickly get crowded. Growth is hampered and water may run off around the edges. Too big, and the roots can’t absorb all the moisture in the surrounding soil. Waterlogged potting mix means less vital air for the plants’ roots.
Select wisely. Choose a container that is approximately twice the diameter of the pot the Encores arrived in. If the original container is 8 inches across, pot up to one that’s 16 inches across. That leaves 4 inches all around for the roots to grow into.
Consider drainage. Make sure the new container has generous drain holes. If they seem small, enlarge them or add more with a drill bit appropriate for the material. Put a square of screening over the holes to retain the potting mix.
A special note about those elegantly shaped containers that feature shoulders– these are the ones where the actual opening is narrower than the curving width of the pot. Encores look great in them, but their roots can grow into those curves, making it difficult to remove the plant without breaking the vessel when repotting in the future.
To solve this problem, you can fashion a liner sleeve from a straight-sided black plastic container, cut down to fit neatly just inside the opening. Yes, you’ll lose that extra space the curves provide, but when you turn the pot on its side, the liner will slip out easily, with less disruption of the roots.
Choose a good potting mix. Cheaper ones tend to be heavy and will compact down surprisingly fast. Give Encores quick-draining light potting mixes with plenty of perlite or other additives to help retain fluffiness. If the mix seems heavy, add your own perlite, sold by the bag at garden centers. Mycorrhizae is another addition found in better grade potting soils that gives plants a boost. Mix fertilizer for acid-loving plants with numbers like (3-5-4) into the container soil according to directions on the label.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to pre-form the right-sized hole in the soil of the new container by using the original pot as a mold. This process disturbs the branches less than the usual method of adding soil after the plant is in place.