Learning how to care for a rhododendron can reward you with many years of delightful blooming beauty. This wonderful plant consists of more than 600 species and 25,000 cultivars, and comes in both evergreen and deciduous varieties. Its showy displays of flowers have made it the state flower for Washington and West Virginia in the United States, and the national flower in Nepal.
An Acid Lover That Hates Wet Feet
Keep in mind that rhododendron care includes knowing what pH level the plant requires to thrive. This plant requires a fairly acidic soil condition (no higher than 5.5) in order to grow properly and to produce the amazing blooms for which it is known. Amending the soil with composted oak leaves, pine bark mulch, and peat moss can lower the pH in alkaline conditions. Avoid aluminum sulfate because this is damaging to rhododendrons.
Rhododendrons are shallow-rooted plants and, as such, do not tolerate wet feet. This means that they must be planted in well-draining soil and not allowed to sit in standing water, which is what happens when the plant is planted low or even with the soil in heavy clay or caliche that has not been amended.
Part of learning how to care for a rhododendron involves learning how to plant them in not-so-ideal conditions. This means planting the rhododendron high.
Mounding amended soil in the bottom of the hole you have dug, setting the plant in place so that the top of its root ball is above the surrounding, existing soil about one inch, and then backfilling with more amended soil helps to prevent rhododendrons from getting root rot in non-draining soils.
Direct Root Watering and Mulch
The fine roots of rhododendrons prevent them from extending out and into the soil in which they are planted as fast as some other types of plants. Because of this, how to care for a rhododendron includes not allowing the root ball to dry out.
Slow-drip watering at the base of the plant ensures thorough wetting and should be done weekly throughout the plants first year of growth except in rainy weather. One indication the plant is not getting enough water is drooping foliage in the early morning; however, take care not to over-water if leaves are drooping in the afternoons during dry weather, as this is normal.
Of course, mulching is an important part of care for rhododendrons and should be done all year long. Mulching not only helps conserve water, it also makes the beds surrounding the plants attractive and cuts down on the need for weeding.
If weeds do appear, care must be taken when pulling them up so as to not disturb the shallow root system of the rhododendron. Any course mulch from pine or oak makes an excellent rhododendron mulch, but avoid peat moss because of its tendency to shed water rather absorb it. Good mulches include oak leaves, pine needles, pine chips, and shredded pine bark.
Good care for a rhododendron is part of the enjoyment of owning this plant. Different varieties make it such a versatile plant, it is not difficult to find one that does well in just about any area (as long as proper soil conditions are maintained).
With the gratifying show of seasonal flowers this terrific plant bestows upon us, it is easy to see why it is one of the most popular plants in the world not only for serious enthusiasts, but for the casual home gardener, as well.