Overwintering Azalea Seedlings

SpicebushSeptember 21, 2012

I have some deciduous azalea seedlings that I started this spring. They are about 1/2 inch tall right now. Will they overwinter outside in Zone 6? When we have our lowest temperatures, we don't usually have much snow cover.

What would be the best way to overwinter the seedlings?

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akamainegrower

It would be very risky to place such small seedlings outdoors for the winter. Very low temperatures, excessive rain, squirrels, etc. are very likely to be fatal. Best place is somewhere with low but not below freezing temperatures - a basement, garage, etc.

Leave the seedlings outside until they naturally lose their leaves. This is assuming they have some. If all you're seeing is the cotyledons and/or immature leaves, they will neeed to be kept growing under lights or in a window for the winter.

The trickiest part of growing deciduous azaleas is getting them to recommence growth after the first period of dormancy. If you can possibly manage it, keeping them growing this winter is probably the best approach.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2012 at 5:55AM
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Spicebush

Thank you so much! They have 4-6 very tiny leaves each.

So you're saying, after they lose their leaves, they won't need to grow under lights?

I do have a basement I can put them in but I don't have a light set-up. I have a sunny, south-facing window. It's Low-E but supposed to let the winter sun in. Which spot wold be best since they have the tiny true leaves?

    Bookmark   September 23, 2012 at 6:48AM
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akamainegrower

Given your description of the seedlings, I really think the best thing you can do is to keep them growing over the winter. Allowing them to lose the tiny leaves they have and go dormant does mean they will not need light, but you will have to be careful they do not dry out completely or remain too wet. Tiny leaves or few leaves also indicate a tiny root system. Decidious azaleas, as I wrote before, are often difficult to bring through the first dormancy. A very small root system just makes it harder.

Lights do not need to be anything elaborate. An inexpensive "shop light" fluorescent fixture is all you need - probably less than 20 or 25 dollars total investment. Basement location is excellent - cool temperatures and usually higher humidity than the rest of the house. A south facing window also can work, but use a sheer curtain or cloth to filter the light. You'll also have to mist or do something else to keep the humidity up.

Growing azaleas and rhododendrons from seed is more challanging than petunias, but very rewarding - there's always the chance - however slim - that something special will show up. About 12 years ago, I potted up some self sown rhododendron mucronulatum seedlings. One turned out to be a fully double clear pink. Good luck!

    Bookmark   September 23, 2012 at 11:04AM
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Spicebush

Thank you SO much for the advice! I have some seedlings from "Mt Saint Helens" and an unknown dark orange one given to me by a friend (not crossed, two separate batches of seedlings).

I keep hoping to get seeds from my pink Northern Lights but so far, it hasn't set any seed. I think it's called "Pink Lights".

Your double clear pink sounds pretty.

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   September 23, 2012 at 12:52PM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

All of the plants you mention are hybrids. I assume you are aware that seedlings from hybrids never come true to the parent plant. The only way to get a true clone is by vegetative cuttings (or tissue culture). The seedling may be a better or worse plant or just a different plant from a seed parent.

Some seedlings from species are true to the parent if they haven't been accidentally hybridized in nature, but hybrids don't come true even if they are selfed (pollinated with their own pollen).

    Bookmark   September 29, 2012 at 5:35PM
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Spicebush

Yes, I'm aware of that. It doesn't matter to me. I'll be happy to get whatever I get! I've rooted cuttings of deciduous azaleas with a mist system but they never survive the winter. I thought I would try seeds so I hope they survive.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2012 at 5:21AM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

Years ago, a friend sent $20 to the gardener at the Rothschild Gardens in the UK asking for deciduous azalea seed. Rothschild is the original home of the Exbury Azaleas. They were kind enough to send him seed. He ended up opening a nursery that sold azaleas that he grew from that seed. He got many beautiful plants.

Good Luck!

    Bookmark   October 10, 2012 at 10:26AM
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Spicebush

How interesting! I hope I get some nice ones. Thanks for the good wishes!

    Bookmark   October 10, 2012 at 5:49PM
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Spicebush

My azalea seedlings are still alive so far!

    Bookmark   December 26, 2012 at 10:12PM
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akamainegrower

Great! We're actually about 1/3 of the way through meterological winter and we've started to gain back daylight. Keeping young seedlings from going dormant is important. It's much easier to do that then deal with the common problem of how to rouse first year seedling into regrowth in the spring.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2012 at 5:53AM
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Spicebush

Some of them have grass-green leaves, some have reddish leaves and some have dark green leaves, but they do have leaves!

    Bookmark   December 28, 2012 at 12:51PM
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Spicebush

The seedlings are growing! I've lost one tiny one.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2013 at 6:48PM
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akamainegrower

Great! I also hope you'll keep on posting updates. It's always interesting to read how things are going after the original posts.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2013 at 5:58AM
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Spicebush

I will!

    Bookmark   February 11, 2013 at 7:44PM
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Spicebush

They're still alive and putting on new leaves! What should be the next step? Most are in a perennial liner flat that has 3" sections. A few are in 2" pots.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2013 at 5:23PM
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akamainegrower

Good for you!

You want them to put on as much growth as possible this summer. You can line them out in a bed, pot up individually (this requires alot of attention to watering) or move into a larger flat.

There's an excellent section on raising from seed in H. Edward Reilly's Success with Rhododendrons and Azaleas. Lots more information including pinching, fertilizing, etc. than I can remember at the moment.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2013 at 5:12AM
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Spicebush

Thank you. I'll see if the library has that book. I need all the help I can get!

    Bookmark   May 2, 2013 at 2:22PM
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Spicebush

Didn't find that book at the library.

My azaleas grew a little bit, some about 1" and some only 1/2". Should I keep them indoors this winter again? I wish now I had lined them out in a bed because it rained almost every day this spring and summer! It would have been great for them.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2013 at 7:30PM
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akamainegrower

1/2 to 1" is not very much for an entire growing season. If you can manage to keep them growing indoors for a second winter, that's probably a good idea.

Used copies of Reilly's book should be available from Amazon or abebooks.com. They should not be very expensive, especially the paperback edition. It really is an excellent book on all aspects of rhododendron and azalea culture and propagation.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2013 at 5:23AM
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Spicebush

Thank you! Yes, I thought they would grow more than they did. I'll search for the book.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2013 at 7:34AM
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Spicebush

Six of my azalea seedlings survived the winter. I just potted them up into 4 inch pots. A couple have put out new leaves since the potting up. A couple don't look very well. I hope they grow enough this summer to spend this coming winter outside.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 1:16PM
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