May 2nd, 2012
Growing rhododendrons takes time and patience, especially after transplanting them into the garden. They take a while to become established in their new location, and need some TLC during the first year or two. But once planted in the landscape, they can quickly become a focal point and a favorite plant.
Choose a location for your plant that can accommodate its growth in both height and width. Many people love rhododendrons as foundation plants near a home, but place the plant too close to windows or doors. Depending on the cultivar you choose, they can grow to an impressive height and width. There are some that stay small and there are dwarf varieties, too. Know your site and choose the plant accordingly.
Another factor to consider is the light that the site receives. Many people mistakenly think that rhododendrons are good shade plants, but they’re actually under story plants. This means that when they grow in forest in the wild, they grow in areas where there is filtered, dappled shade. One of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen was a trail in Pennsylvania with hundreds of rhododendrons blooming in spring. We hiked along the trail and marveled at the golden sunlight filtering through the deciduous trees and the purple rhododendrons blooming along the pathway. That’s the environment rhododendrons love, and the best spot for them in your garden is a space that receives partial sunlight. Morning light and afternoon shade is good, or some dappled shade with periods of sunlight.
Rhododendrons need an acidic soil. Get your soil tested by the local Cooperative Extension office and follow their recommendations if the pH is higher than a 6. You can add compost and other organic amendments to the soil prior to planting.
When planting your rhododendron, dig the hole twice as wide and deep as the container or root ball. You should remove the burlap and rope from root balls; the old-fashioned notion of keeping it on is outdated. Give those roots room to spread out and grow. Remove the plant gently from the container. Rhododendrons have fine, hairlike roots near the surface, and they need these to absorb the maximum amount of moisture.
Keep your newly planted rhododendron well-watered during the first year. Adding a layer of mulch is ideal. During times when temperatures soar above 95, they also benefit from a spritz on the leaves from the garden hose to keep hydrated.
Rhododendrons are a beautiful plant that deserves a place of importance in your garden. Be sure to select a location where it will thrive and choose a rhododendron suited for your climate and location. Be careful during transplanting and give it lots of TLC (and water) during its first year. It will reward you with generous blossoms and a beautiful plant you’ll love.
For more information on selecting, planting and caring for rhododendrons, see: