Shrubs

Rhododendron Guide: How to Grow & Care for this Flowering Shrub

Guide to Rhododendrons for everything you will ever need to know! Tips for planting, growing and caring for these Flowering Shrubs.
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Rhododendron is a well-known genus that contains about 1,024 species of woody flowering plants. Although the flowers from this genus are native to Asia, they are also present in many other western regions. They grow in the montane and lowland forests of the Northern United States, with a wide distribution in the highlands of the Appalachians.

Rhododendron plants are truly spectacular by nature and very popular ornamentals worldwide. Their stunning and diverse appearance makes them one of the most appreciated flowers among gardeners.

The most common Rhododendron cultivars, also winners of the Award of Garden Merit, include ‘Christmas Cheer’, ‘Daviesii’, ‘Dora Amateis’, ‘Gibraltar’, ‘Homebush’, ‘Klondyke’, and ‘Praecox’.

About Rhododendron

  • Rhododendron plants play a big part in the culture of several countries, states, and provinces. They are the state flower of West Virginia and Washington, the state tree of Uttarakhand and Sikkim, the national flower of Nepal, and the provincial flower of Jiangxi.
  • In traditional medicine, people used the leaves of some Rhododendron species in the combination with other herbs to prepare cures. These remedies were pretty good against headaches, rib pain, sensitivity to weather change, inflammation, fever, or respiratory and digestive problems.
  • Nowadays, these plants can serve as a great treatment for numerous health problems, such as kidney stones, high blood pressure, joint and muscle pain, sciatica, nerve pain, gout, and ageing disorders.
  • The caterpillars of some moths and butterflies use Rhododendron’s foliage as a food source. Their flowers are also very attractive to many species of pollinators.
  • Rhododendrons symbolize danger and ‘to beware’ in the language of flowers. They are plants with cultural importance, appearing in several pieces of literature.
  • The flowers are edible and prized for their distinctive sour flavour. In regions of Uttarakhand, people use them to make burans juice.
  • You can prepare a herbal tea known as Labrador tea from one of the following three species: R. groenlandicum, R. neoglandulosum, and R. tomentosum.
Rhododendron Bush
Rhododendron Bush

Rhododendron Features: An Overview

  • These plants belong to the Ericaceae family. Rhododendron is the largest and most important genus in this family of flowering shrubs.
  • Depending on the species, they are shrubs or small to large trees that can reach from 4 inches to 100 feet (10 cm to 30 m) in height. They are either evergreen or deciduous.
  • Their foliage consists of numerous leaves of 0.4 to 20 inches (1-50 cm) that grow spirally arranged on long, woody, and brown stems. Some species have the undersides of the leaflets covered with hairs or scales.
  • Rhododendron plants bloom for a long time, usually from late winter through early summer. During this period, they produce many inflorescences with clusters of showy blossoms.
  • The flowers of these plants appear in various sizes and shapes. They also exhibit a wide colour palette, coming in shades of white, yellow, reddish, orange, pink, lavender, purple, or mixes of these tints.
  • Rhododendron fruits are dry, septicidal capsules that contain numerous seeds. In general, the ripe fruits split lengthwise to release the seeds.
  • The most popular plant companions for Rhododendrons are Bleeding Heart, Columbine, Japanese Andromeda, Mountain Laurel, Redvein Enkianthus, Siberian Bugloss, Smooth Hydrangea, and Wood Anemone.

Growing Rhododendron

In general, Rhododendron plants are very easy to grow and care for. These flowers thrive in environmental conditions that mimic their natural habitat. Besides, they will require some extra attention only during their first year of growth after planting. Once this period has ended, these easy-going beauties can basically do pretty well with little to no effort on your part.

In their native habitat, Rhododendron plants usually spend their time among trees and under the shade of other protectors. Because of this, they are doing just fine in areas with indirect light or partial shade. Make sure you grow these bushy companions in a location where they can receive plenty of dappled shade daily. If you want your plants to remain smaller, you can grow them in a well-lit spot to limit their overall growth.

Depending on the species, Rhododendron plants will tolerate a wide range of temperatures. While most species are hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8, some others will not appreciate prolonged cooler temperatures. For optimal growth, it is wise to bring your plants indoors in autumn, especially if you live in a region with harsh winters.

Although Rhododendron bushes are typically pest-free, they are prone to fungal diseases when they are growing in improper conditions. The most common diseases that can affect your plants are bud blast, powdery mildew, leaf spots, or rust. In case of infection, you should remove all the unhealthy parts from your plants right away. After this process, you can also apply suitable fungicides to prevent any future spread.

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Planting Rhododendron

The best time to plant your newly bought Rhododendrons is in spring when you are sure that the last danger of frost has passed. You can usually find these beauties in nurseries or markets as potted plants. Before planting them in their permanent location, you must soak their root balls until air bubbles disappear. Once this happens, you can plant your flowers so that their crowns are at the same level as they were in the containers.

Rhododendron plants are acid-loving buddies, so you must plant them in soil that has their demanded pH. If you want to give your bushes the time of their life, look for a substrate with a pH range of 4.5 to 5.5. They grow at their best in loamy, fertile, and moisture-retaining soils that also have excellent drainage. You can amend the soil with a nice touch of organic matter to provide good drainage and aeration.

Your beloved shrubs will benefit from fertilizing once every year to boost their growth and ensure proper blooming. Feed Rhododendrons bushes with a balanced fertilizer suited for acid-loving plants, such as cottonseed meal, in early spring or autumn.

You can maintain a certain size or shape for your Rhododendron plants by pruning them regularly. This process not only will make your shrubbies look absolutely fabulous, but will also promote healthy and bush-like overall growth. Moreover, deadheading the flowers will make your plants bloom like crazy for a longer period. Make sure you remove all spent blossoms and wait for new ones to show up all fresh and colourful.

Watering Rhododendron

Most Rhododendron species are big fans of moisture and perform best in areas with frequent rainfalls. Even if you manage to find the perfect soil for them, it is pretty difficult to grow these flowers in hot and dry climates. If you live in a region with prolonged dry periods, you can help them grow properly with regular watering.

Rhododendron plants prefer constantly damp soil, so you should not allow it to dry out completely. If you notice curled and twisted leaves on your Rhododendron shrubs, this may be a sign that they need a nice and deep soaking. Keep in mind that these flowers should not experience the stress of wilting because they will recover pretty hard.

Too much water can also cause serious problems to your bushes, such as root rot. You can avoid over-watering in a simple way − check the soil in-between waterings. When the top two inches (5 cm) of soil feels dry to the touch, you can spoil your babies with a nice touch of water.

Rhododendron Shrub
Rhododendron Shrub

Propagating Rhododendron

These bushes are so charming and easy-going that it is very hard to resist and part ways with them. We know the struggle, gardener! As always, propagating your plants is an excellent choice if you want them around for as long as possible. And when you will find out how easy this process can be, you will surely want to make more baby Rhododendrons to gift them to your beloved ones!

Since very few Rhododendron varieties come true from seed, the most common method to propagate these lovely flowers is through stem cuttings. As a general rule, soft-wood cuttings will grow some roots faster than the harder wood cuttings. Because of this, it is better to take your cuttings in early fall only from new growth.

Once you have your Rhododendron cuttings, remove all but the top layer of leaves from each one. You should also cut off the flower buds to avoid over-crowding. For optimal and faster growth, dip your stem cuttings in rooting hormone before planting.

The Rhododendron cuttings will root properly if you plant them in a sterile mixture of half horticultural perlite or vermiculite and half milled sphagnum moss. Cover the container with a plastic bag large enough to keep it away from the foliage. Place the cuttings in a location with bright but indirect light and rotate the container once or twice a week.

In general, Rhododendron cuttings need a soil temperature that ranges from 70 to 75 °F (21-24 °C) to root nicely. With proper growing conditions, your shrubs should develop a healthy root system in 2 to 4 months after planting. After this period, you can transplant the baby plants in their permanent locations and fertilize them monthly with an acid-based azalea fertilizer until established.

In Conclusion

Due to their alluring look and low-maintenance habit, Rhododendrons deserve a place in every collector’s garden. And with so many cultivars to choose from, you will always have one more specimen to add to your plant family. What is your experience with these bushy companions? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Miruna is an experienced content writer with a passion for gardening. She is the proud owner of an outdoor rose garden and an indoor collection of tiny succulents. She bought her first succulent 10 years ago - an adorable Echeveria Setosa. Now she owns more than 100 succulents and cacti of different colors, shapes, and sizes. Miruna is a versatile writer and, as you might have guessed, her favorite topic is gardening. Contact miruna@gardenbeast.com

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