In spring when the stunning azalea blooms on JoAnn Mazzoni's front porch, it's the talk of her San Carlos neighborhood. A cascade of magenta flowers drapes from the 8-foot-tall bush, giving it the look of a carefully groomed hothouse plant.
But this gorgeous azalea is not as labor-intensive as it looks, and its origins are humble. Mazzoni received it one Mother's Day as a demure 6-inch potted plant. As it grew, she began to train it into a tree shape. Each year after bloom, she trimmed the lower branches from the trunk but left the canopy. She transplanted the azalea into a 24-inch-wide wood pot. Since the plant received sunlight only from one side, its top growth began to weep. After six years, the azalea had developed its current shape.
Now Mazzoni trims only a little off the ends each year to maintain the plant's form. She feeds the bush once a month with an azalea food, except during bloom time, and waters it often enough to keep the soil moist, even during winter (the roof's overhang prevents rain from reaching it). A sturdy stake holds the plant upright.