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Growing Rhododendrons

Written By Shauna Lambeth 17 May 2019
Growing rhododendrons
Rhododendrons in full bloom are a spectacular sight! From delicate soft white, creamy yellow and baby pink to shocking pink, glowing orange, blood red, and deep dark purple they are all magnificent in bloom. And while the flowers are spectacular the foliage on some is also noteworthy and a tribute to the plant year-round.

True red Rhododendron 'Grace Seabrook' sports handsome deep dark green foliage, delicate white R.'Snow Lady' has delightful hairy leaves and R. ponticum 'Variegatum' has showy variegated foliage. Also, sometimes the buds are showy and such is the case with R. 'Taurus', the deep red buds show themselves off all winter long.

Positioning your newly planted Rhododendrons is important. The height varies greatly from the dwarf varieties that stay between 1-2 feet tall and the extremely large varieties that grow up to (and sometimes over) 10 feet.

I search out the very large, very small and very unusual (and very cool!) rhododendrons on the cold wet days of winter but I also know that most gardeners will be looking for varieties growing between 3 and 6 feet in height so we always have a large selection of those.

As well as choosing your planting location to suit the eventual height of your rhododendron, remember that most rhodos like cool morning sun or shade locations. If you want to plant a rhododendron in full sun or hot afternoon sun be sure to choose a variety suited to the sun (yes, they do exist!)

Incorporate a good amount of compost or steer manure and peat moss to your existing soil to provide a moist soil mix. Dig your hole wider than deep for rhodos as their root system is shallow and wide. Add some bonemeal or rock phosphate for root growth and I like to add granular fish meal from our bulk bins, you'll love the deep green it promotes in the foliage. Water well at transplanting time, with liquid transplanter fertilizer, and water weekly for the whole first summer.

For established rhodos you can feed using the same granular fish meal and rock phosphate then mulch around the drip line with steer manure or compost to keep the root zone happy during the hot days of summer. Whenever you are mulching any plants be sure to not bury the trunk or stem deeper than it should be as you can rot the stems of your plants that can be fatal.

Because rhododendrons do not ever send down a deep tab root even established rhododendrons like a weekly deep soaking (or every 8 days to stay on your summer watering days). In fact, this kind of watering alone will promote a healthier plant than one that is watered either too frequently or drought stressed.