Spring officially kicks off March 20th and if you’re like me every tree, shrub and perennial that starts to flower is an event. The subtle colors of winter are behind us. Bring on the colors of the rainbow.
Rhododendrons are one of spring’s show stoppers. Huge, rounded clusters of stunning blossoms in lavender, red, purple, white, pink and even yellow and gold clothe these shrubs with color. You can have flowers from February to late May by choosing different varieties. And rhododendrons are easy to grow if you give them what they need.
Because rhododendrons like air in the root zone, amend your soil liberally with organic matter. 50-60% is not too much. If you garden in clay, just plant them in raised beds or berms 1-2 ft above the original soil level. Rhododendrons like moist soil so top dress around your plants with several inches of mulch over the root zone, making sure the stem is not get buried. Pine needles, oak leaves or wood chips are good choices. around the plants as this would injure the surface roots. Finally, most rhodies thrive in partial shade or morning sun. The hot afternoon sun that we get during the summer would burn even those varieties that tolerate some sun. Since their leaves remain on the plant for several years you’d have to live with burnt leaf centers and edges for a long time if they got too much sun.
There are thousands of rhododendron varieties. By planting early, mid-season and late blooming types you can enjoy those huge, gorgeous flowers for months.
Cheer is one of the showy early bloomers. Large, pink flower trusses cover the 5×5 ft plant. It can take some sun and would be a good candidate if you have one of those gardens that receives and hour or so of afternoon sun.
For April blooms consider Edith Bosley. Similar to Purple Splendor it grows upright to 6 ft.tall but only 4 ft wide. Perfect for narrow spaces. Other mid-season bloomers that would make a splash in the garden include Golden Gate, a 3 ft compact orange hybrid and easy-to-grow, red-flowering Jean Marie de Montegue.
To extend your season add some late season varieties like Lee’s Dark Purple. Growing with a spreading habit to 4 x 5 ft wide, you’ll love its blue-purple trusses. Anah Kruschke also blooms late in spring with lavender pink flowers on a dense 5 x 5 ft shrub. A tough undemanding larger variety is English Roseum. This one grows 6 ft tall with lavender pink flower trusses and blooms in May.
Rhododendrons really contribute to the woodland or shade garden. They are long-lived and deer resistant. I’ve only heard two gardeners tell me that deer ate some of their flower buds last fall for the moisture content. Most likely those deer couldn’t read well enough to read the deer resistant list!