Rhododendrons have become one of my favorite shrubs. These gloriously flowering evergreen shrubs come in colors and varieties to suit almost any region and any garden. They are quite hardy, but need to be placed properly in the garden .
Like their relatives, azaleas, they are woodland plants, so must have particularly good drainage, an acidic soil, and do best with some protection from the hot sun or fierce winds and winter colds.
When I choose a rhododendron for the yard, I always start with the blossom color. They have such an abundance of flowers as they bloom that if you haven’t chosen well, the huge block of color will overwhelm the rest of your shrub border.
Large evergreen glossy green leaves with brownish slightly fuzzy undersides contribute to the year-round interest. Some rhodos are deciduous, but these are more difficult to find. If the leaves start turning a bit yellow, it indicates that the soil need some acid added. Chelated iron will acidify alkaline soil. I’ve also found that spreading coffee grounds seems to add enough acid.
Rhodos have a wide spreading delicate root system, so should never be planted too deeply. As you plant them, build a mound of good soil, and make a depression in the top to place your new rhodo. Spread out the roots, cover with soil, and water well. Add more soil and water again. Add about 4 inches of mulch around the plant to help retain moisture and to keep the roots cool.
The task of removing the spent flowers is the only part of rhodo growing I’d rather avoid. Remove these right after the blooms fade. Just snap the spent blooms off, twisting them away from the new next year’s buds. You’ll find this just a little tedious if you have large rhodos, and you’ll get really sticky fingers and hands, but its a job that needs to be done to keep your plant healthy. I don’t like to use gloves, because they are almost impossible to clean, but alcohol will dissolve the gooey mess from your hands with a bit of work.
In planting rhodos, start with small plants, so they have a good chance to adjust to the micro climate you put them in. You can choose from small ground hugging species to large mounding ones, or even ones that will grow up to 30 feet tall. There are around 900 species, and thousands of hybrids have been developed. Choose your rhododendrons carefully, as not all are suited to every region or climate.