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How to Grow and Care for Rhododendrons

Genus: Rhododendron

A Rhododendron bush, is a popular flowering bush and foundation plant, with bright spring blooms. They are native to tropical and temperate regions. While it is a bush, Rhododendron bushes can grow up to 80 feet tall!

Rhododendrons are closely related to Azaleas. The biggest difference between the Rhododendron plant and an Azalea bush, and a Rhododendron is an evergreen bush. (Note: There are a few varieties of deciduous Rhododendrons, but they are not too popular with home owners) Generally speaking, Rhododendron plants are larger in height, leaves, and blooms compared to an Azalea. The Rhododendron also has a leathery type of leaf.

Propagation of Rhododendron:

Rhododendrons are grown from seeds, cuttings or grafting. Most home gardeners do not start Rhododendrons from seed, as plant grown from seed takes 2-10 years to produce the first bloom. Most homeowners buy established Rhododendron plants while in full bloom from a garden store. They transplant the Rhododendron bush outdoors, after the booms have died off.

Planting and transplanting Rhododendrons is best done in the early spring or early fall. When transplanting, replant bushes at the same level in the ground was they were in their original location. Smaller bushes transplant best.

How to Grow Rhododendrons:

Rhododendrons are acid loving plants. They grow best in light shade, and need protection from midday sun and winter sun. They prefer a moist, well drained soil with a pH of 5.5.Check the soil pH before planting, especially if planting along a foundation where soils tend to be more alkaline. Adjust the pH, as needed.  Mix in  plenty of inorganic matter, and well rotted manure.

Selection of a location is important. Rhododendrons can be harmed or killed by sustained winds and by too much direct sunlight. Select a location out of the direct sunlight if possible. Protection from strong midday sun and winter sunlight is important. Otherwise the leaves can dry out and/or burn. Northern exposures are best. It is also important to provide protection from winds.  A low lying area, or one protected by a building or a hedgerow is a good choice.

Rhododendrons prefer a moist soil. It is important to water the plants during extended dry spells, even in the fall.  

Using pine needles (acidic pH) as mulch works to help keep the soil moist, and maintain/add acidity to the soil. Roots are shallow, so mulching will help to keep the weeds down, without disturbing the root system.

Pruning Rhododendron:

Pruning or pinching back young plants will help to promote bushy growth. Pruning should be done early in the spring. But any pruning may result in cutting off next years blooms. If you prune an established bush heavily, it may not bloom again for two to three years.  At the thought of losing next year's blooms, we recommend avoiding pruning established plants at all. Just let them grow naturally however they want.  

After a number of years, if the plant begins to grow too tall, major pruning may be needed.


Winter Protection for Rhododendrons:

Rhododendrons can be harmed by winter burn, resulting from frozen soil, wind and winter sun. As previously mentioned, selection of a location for your Rhododendrons will help to avoid wind or sun damage. Some varieties are not as tolerant to extreme cold. In northern areas of the country, ask the garden store about the cold hardiness of the variety you are buying.

You can further protect your bushes by providing wind breaks that may double to block some of the direct winter sunlight. 

More on Winter Burn

Insects and Diseases Affecting Rhododendron:

Insect and disease problems are infrequent. Treat with insecticides or fungicides only as needed.

More Information:

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Also see: How to grow Azaleas

Garden trees, bushes and shrubs. Nature Hills.

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