rhododendrons for year round interest

Growing Rhododendrons

Rhododendrons –  gorgeous flowering shrubs…

Rhododendrons are beautiful woodland plants that easily thrive in your garden. Because many are broad-leafed evergreens, they add year-round interest. And by choosing to plant a wide selection of varieties, you can add color to your landscaping from spring to fall.

Over 1000 varieties of rhododendrons are available, most with showy flower displays. They range in size from tiny species just inches tall, to mid-sized shrubs, to R. giganteum, which can stretch upwards to 30 meters!

Rhodos are widely distributed throughout the world, occurring naturally almost everywhere except South America and Africa. The most familiar are the cool-climate evergreen species with their colorful blooms. These originated in the Himalayas, southwestern China and northern Myanmar. Others are found scattered across northern Asia, Europe and North America.


Landscapers love both species and hybrid rhododendrons (including azaleas) for their structure, size, colorful flowers, and the fact that many of them are evergreen. When they are grouped in mass, they can be almost overwhelmingly gorgeous. Landscapers often choose varieties that bloom around the same time, with flower colors that complement each other.

Larger-leafed rhododendrons are used in informal plantings and woodland gardens, or as specimen plants.

How to Grow Rhododendrons

Rhododendrons are quite easy to grow.  They  do best in light, well-drained acid soils that are high in organic material. Test your soil – a pH between 4.5 and5.5 is perfect. In areas with poorly-drained or alkaline soils, rhododendrons can be grown in raised beds with acidic mediums added, such as peat or composted pine bark.

Because they have a fairly shallow fibrous root system, mulching and careful watering are important. This is especially important before the plant is well established.

Most rhododendrons prefer some shade, since they originated in a moist woodland setting. However, if they are well mulched and kept watered, they can flourish in many locations. Because of their shallow roots, little or no cultivation should be done around the plants. Instead, pull weeds by hand or cut them off. Better still, provide a deep mulch and this will prevent most weed growth as well as retain ground moisture.


Care for your rhodendrons by feeding them in late winter or early spring with slow-release fertilizer pellets. Alternatively, you can top-dress them with blood and bonemeal, well-decayed compost, coconut fibre, rice hulls or leaf mould.

After blooming, deadhead the flowers to encourage a bushier habit in young plants. Be careful not to remove next season’s flower and leaf buds as you’re deadheading. This is a messy and sticky job, but your rhodos will look much more attractive going into fall and winter.

Rhododendrons can live for many years in containers, an option if you have difficult soils. Specialized rhododendron and azalea planting mixes available, but any freely draining, general-purpose potting mix will do. Plants in containers need extra watering and should be top-dressed annually. If you group your container grown rhodos, they are easily watered by installing a drip irrigation system.

The few problems that afflict rhododendrons can be solved by simply improving the growing conditions, rather than by chemical means. Generally, rhododendrons do not like excessive pampering.

Practice careful neglect with established rhododendrons.  Keep your precious plants pleasantly moist in reasonably good soil, fertilize in early spring and after blooming, mulch around the base, and they will need little else while giving you years of color and pleasure.


I’m privileged to live near the Kitty Coleman Woodland Garden, near Courtenay on Vancouver Island. Here over 3000 rhododendrons thrive in a lovely woodland setting. Just a few miles further south, Milner Gardens near Qualicum rivals Kitty Coleman’s collection of rhododendrons.  Whenever you’re visiting beautiful Vancouver Island, make sure you include these two gardens on your list of beautiful spots to visit.


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