Azalea project

When we got the new shed I decided it was time to landscape that general area – general area means the area between the carport and the upper road. My reason for not doing that area previously was the problem with watering which was solved with my new battery powered orbit sprinkler system. Since I’ve had good luck with azaleas and since that area is well shaded and with lots of oak leaf mulch instantly and continuously available, I decided to do the job with half a dozen or so azaleas. The last time we purchased azaleas they were $5-$6 and we had found a great nursery in Ocala – Porter’s.

Our first setback was that Porter’s has moved from Ocala to the Villages. We learned that after wasting a day traisping around Ocala. Decided to try more local nurseries only to learn that the locals were too proud of their inventory – $10 proud. So I opted for a fallback – start my own from cuttings. I have plenty of good stock and they were a bit leggy so it seemed natural to kill a few birds with one stone. My history with starting new azaleas has been spotty, maybe one out of four actually happen. So I decided to add a bit of science to the project and see if I could home in on a higher yield approach. My expectation is that within 6-8 weeks the starts would either have taken or be deadwood.

I started the cuttings on July 3 in an open (not potted) shaded area where it would be easy to maintain consistent watering. I ended up with 10 starts. All used a growth hormone stimulant since past experience has proved that worthwhile. I did 3 starts using a technique I coined “long branch”. These were starts from cuttings about 2′ long with sparse upper greenery. I scraped about a foot of the woody and coated with the hormone then buried it mostly horizontally. My thought was that the more area with the hormone, the more possible root formation surface.

Five starts were my conventional approach – cut about 6” below a branching point and plant up to the branch. These cuttings were fully leafed.

Two starts were bare wood, about 8” long, with no leaves. Just sticks in the soil with the growth hormone applied.

Three weeks into the project there are some interesting results. The leaves on the five multi-branched starts all turned droopy within the first week. Some worse than others but all looked significantly wilted. I expected that the leaves would all fall based on that start but they are still hanging on, looking poorly, but hanging on and still green(ish).

The long branch starts look much better; two have some visible droop but one, the one with the longest branch, has shown no signs of wilting at all and looks about the same as the day I planted it.

The most interesting is the plain sticks. They have started budding out new leaves – very tiny, but leaves.

So at this point in the project, I would start speculating that the long branch and stick approach seem to be the most successful. Of course I can’t tell what’s going on under the soil so I’m only speculating. It does look like my old approach is the saddest which would support my 75% failure history. Also at this point there is zero pressure to produce since my friend Jess Hayes found 6 nice plants for me at $5 each and I found 3 nice Hydrangeas to complete the landscaping in the uplot area. So at this point, any success in the cutting project is pure bonus and in the interest of science.

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