Rhododendrons are easy to care for flowering shrubs that are abundant in the Northern Hemisphere. Their showy blooms, long, waxy leaves, and woodsy appearance make the plant a popular choice with landscapers and naturalists alike. Derived from the ancient Greek words for “tree” and “rose,” rhododendrons display a variety of sizes and shapes with over 850 natural species. Flowers come in white, red, and a range of fuchsias and pinks. Rhododendrons bloom early with blossoms hearty enough to last into the hotter days of summer. While these shrubs flourish in the Pacific Northwest, where substantial rainfall and the lack of weather extremes provide perfect conditions, rhododendrons are popular throughout the United States, England, and Asia. By following just a few simple guidelines, rhododendrons can live long, healthy, and bloomingly beautiful lives.
Watering rhododendrons when first planted is essential, but after that, in good soil, rhododendrons do best with just rainfall’s bounty, except in extreme heat or times of drought. Mulching may be the most important gift you can give a rhododendron. With shallow roots that don’t spread far from the original root ball, a good layer of mulch around the base of the shrub will help retain moisture and keep roots from getting thirsty. A two to four inch layer of mulch left year round is ideal. In the summer, mulch will not only help the shrub hold water, but also aid in preventing weeds from creeping in and competing with the shrub for nutrients. Mulch in winter protects sensitive roots from the cold.
Rhododendrons can be fed an organic fertilizer once a year, either in the early spring or fall. Granular fertilizer for acid-loving plants sprinkled around the rhododendron’s base is recommended. Spent blooms should be pruned away with flower heads removed before seeds form. Branches can be managed for size and shape, cutting to within six to eight inches of the main trunk at soil level. Old, dead branches should be removed. Rhododendrons enjoy a misting of their foliage when days are long and sunny. Otherwise, with just a little care and some gentle attention, rhododendrons thrive and produce year after year.