With three weeks having elapsed since stem-tip cuttings were taken from azaleas, it's time to inspect the plants. If the trench method was used to root the cuttings, efforts to pull each cutting from the soil should be met with some resistance, which means that the cuttings have rooted. Leave all trench cuttings intact. Transplanting should not be done until mid to late September.
As for cuttings started in plastic pots indoors, it's time to inspect the plants and transplant those that have rooted. To check each cutting for roots, hold the top of the stem between two fingers, then attempt to extract the cutting slowly from the soil. In most cases, your fingers will detect some resistance; if you applied more pressure, you would certainly pull the cutting out of the pot. If resistance is felt, it means sufficient roots have developed and the cutting should be transplanted. Drop a pebble next to each cutting not sufficiently rooted. They should remain in the plastic bag for another week, but all others should be transplanted as soon as possible.
Use a three- or four-inch plastic pot for each cutting. Rely on your basic 1-1-1 soil mixture (equal amounts of "milled" or compressed sphagnum peat moss, perlite and vermiculite). Mix dry first, then place your materials in a plastic dishpan. Mix together a pint of hot water and a tablespoon of liquid Woolite or Joy detergent, and pour over the soil in the dishpan. Use your hands to mix the soil, adding more hot water as needed. Fill each pot almost to the top with your wet soil, use a teaspoon to spoon out a tiny amount of soil in the top center of the pot, then sprinkle two pinches of limestone over the soil and work it into the mixture.
Transplanting is simple. Use a teaspoon to move the rooted cutting from the old plastic pot into the new one. Once all rooted cuttings are transferred, move the pots to the kitchen sink. Mix up a gallon of Peters' 17-6-6 acid greening special in an empty milk jug, then apply the water and fertilizer to each pot to remove air pockets and provide roots with their first meal. Let the pots drain completely, then move the plants to a bright room indoors away from air conditioning vents and direct sunlight. At this point, even a northern exposure will benefit the plants. If you have a screened porch, consider moving the plants there. Keep in mind that a humid environment is best for the plants.
Azaleas won't require too much care once they are potted up. Plants should remain indoors for the next four weeks while you alternate watering with plain water and the Peters' fertilizer. The soil must be kept lightly moist all the time, which means giving the plant some moisture every five days. Water on the fifth day after potting up, then fertilize on the 10th day. Continue the rotation up to about Aug. 10, after which you should discontinue the fertilizer applications but continue watering. Plants should be transplanted into the garden after Labor Day and sprayed with Safer's insecticidal soap soon after to deter insects.
Cuttings propagated in trenches have already rooted, so you need only concern yourself with keeping the soil lightly moist. Don't let the soil dry out, otherwise the plants will die. The sparse amount of organic nitrogen from the composted cow manure is all the plant needs in terms of energy.
Other azaleas may appear to have been neglected. Some leaves may have turned from green to brown to gray-white as a result of lacebug injury. Check the undersides of azalea leaves for microscopic brown spots the size of a pencil dot. If you find spots on one leaf, you will find them on most azalea foliage. Spray immediately with liquid Cygon (4 teaspoons per gallon of water) or Orthene (3 tablespoons per gallon). Spray in the early morning when temperatures are below 80 degrees, otherwise the foliage will burn. There are two more broods of lacebugs coming, so don't let your guard down.
The last feed of the year for shrubs should be done now. Spring flowering shrubs will start producing flower buds and spurs in only four weeks, so energy is at a premium now. Forsythia, lilac, pieris japonica, viburnum, spirea, etc., are candidates for a gallon or two of Peters' 15-30-15, MiracleGro or Ra-Pid-Gro applied to the soil at the dripline. Neglected laurel, azalea, rhododendron, holly, etc., are candidates for Miracid, Acid-Gro or Peters' 17-6-6. No matter what, this is the final feeding for the year.
On shade trees you may find scale feeding on the foliage. If you don't find gray-white deposits on trunks or undersides of limbs, don't spray. Treat only trees where the deposits show. Candidates for treatment are ash, birch, dogwood, flowering fruit trees, hawthorn, honey locust, linden, magnolia, maple, oak, pine, poplar, spruce, sweet gum, sycamore, tulip poplar and willow. Spray now and again in early August with Orthene, three tablespoons to a gallon of water. Use Cygon (four teaspoons per gallon) on blue spruce, red and sugar maples, elm and crab apple.
Poinsettia cuttings should also be done now because they root quickly in high soil temperatures, usually in less than a week. Here is the procedure:
Using a large plastic pot with drainage holes, mix your standard 1-1-1 soil, wet it down, add a tablespoon of pulverized lime for a 12-inch pot and work the lime into the soil. Fill the pot to the rim.
Poinsettia leaves are always removed with their stems intact. Prune as many stemmed leaves from the plant as you wish cuttings, immersing them in hot water as they are cut from the plant. Hormone powder isn't mandatory for rooting cuttings. Insert the entire stem of the cutting into the soil so the leaf rests above the rim of the pot. Arrange your cuttings so they line the periphery of the pot, spacing cuttings a bit more than an inch apart. Spray warm water mist over the soil when all the cuttings are planted, allow the excess water to drain off, then put the entire pot in a clear plastic bag sealed at the top.
Put the pot in the warmest room of the house, but not in the rays of the sun. Five days' later, remove the pot from the bag, spray warm water mist over the soil, then return the pot to the bag. If air temperatures are in the high 80s or 90s, the cuttings will have rooted by the 10th day, after which the pot should be removed from the bag. Move the pot to a cooler room, keep the soil lightly moist, and plan on transplanting the rooted cuttings anytime over the next week. Use three-inch plastic pots filled with 1-1-1 soil and a half-teaspoon of pulverized lime to raise the pH to around 6. From there, use Peters' 20-20-20 every five days to wet the soil, letting pots drain in the sink before returning them to bright, indirect light.
Next: Making your own potpourri. For the moment, here are a few plants from which flowers may be taken for potpourri: baby's breath, bells of Ireland, black-eyed Susan, salvia, cockscomb, gladiola, globe thistle, goldenrod, hollyhock, hydrangea, Joe-Pye weed, marigold, phlox, Queen Anne's lace, statice, yarrow, veronica, viola and zinnia. For leaves alone, candidates are artemesia, boxwood, honeysuckle, magnolia and periwinkle. Seed pods from bittersweet, nandina, privet, Chinese lantern, money plant, milkweed and yucca can be used as well as cattails from the wild. Jack Eden hosts "Over the Garden Fence" Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on WTOP Radio (1500 AM)