Native Azaleas from Seed
Picked the first azalea seed pods of the year today, so it's definitely time for the instructions I promised.
Plastic storage containers (I use soup/sandwich size by Glad)-- each variety of azalea in its own container
One gallon ziplock plastic storage bags
ProMix soilless potting mix, or other peat-based soilless potting mix
Long fiber sphagnum moss
White paper (copier/typewriter)
Espoma Holly-Tone fertilizer
In winter, fluorescent light setup unless you have a wonderful, non-drafty bright window
Collect seed pods and clean the seed. Pods should be brown and the tips of the pods should be starting to separate. Over a sheet of white paper, carefully open the pod segments (there are usually four or so) and flake the seeds out onto the paper, getting as little extraneous material as possible. I use the tip of a pushpin for this operation. The seed is rusty brown and pretty small. Under a loupe you would see that it's actually wafer-like, with little wings. Put the seed somewhere safe where an errant breeze won't scatter it.
Punch about 20 holes all over the bottom of the container with an icepick or a phillips head screwdriver.
Mix perlite in with the soilless potting mix at a 1:3 ratio. IOW, 1/3 cup perlite to 1 cup potting mix. To one cup of this mix add 1 tsp Holly-Tone. Mix well.
Fill container 2/3 full with above mix. Wet soil with distilled water until entire mass is wet and water runs out drainage holes. Drain well.
Over a piece of white paper, take a handful of sphagnum moss and rub it briskly against the screen of the kitchen strainer. Put 1/8" or a little more of the resultant finely milled sphagnum on top of the soil in the container and spray it on mist setting with distilled water until it is thoroughly moist. This will take a surprising amount of water.
Sprinkle azalea seed as evenly as possible over surface of damp sphagnum. Mist seed into crannies with distilled water spray.
Put container into plastic bag and seal. I write on the bag with a Sharpie first, putting the species and sow date. Put bag under lights -- lights should be about 4" above container.
Fresh seed germinates in 2-3 weeks for me. Seed does not keep well -- one year old seed stored at 40 degrees was nearly all dead.
Grow on in sowing container until minimum of two sets of true leaves have formed, partially unsealing the bag (about 1/3 open) as the babies get bigger. You can transplant on at that point into cells. As the babies are used to nearly 100% humidity, be prepared to bag the cell flat for the first few weeks after transplanting -- those clear plastic garbage bags intended for recycling work fine. The seedlings are quite small and take a little time to get any size to them, but once they get 4-5 sets of leaves they start to grow quite fast. I feed the youngsters with liquid iron and seaweed about 1x a week during spring and summer, and there's Holly-Tone in the pot.
NOTE: Always use distilled water. Even if you've dechlorinated your tap water, it may still be too alkaline for little seedlings. Once they get growing vigorously and get some size, they're evidently much less sensitive to pH. But chlorine and chloramine are always a no-no.
The seeds I sowed last December are now plants that are 9-12" tall, quite husky and living in 4" pots. They're wintering over in a cold frame. They'll move into one gallon pots come spring, but would be plenty big enough to plant out in a garden if that were my aim.
BTW, any azalea seed can be grown following these instructions, not just natives. Also rhododendron, kalmia, leucothoe, oxydendron, etc.