The Q&A Archives: Growing Rhododendrons

Question: I live in Ohio. All those around me have beautiful Rhododendrons. Mine do not grow and always look sickly. They are stunted with maybe 1 blossom per year. Is it my soil? Do I need to fertilize and if so with what and how often? I'm very frustrated with repeat failures. Do they like sun/partial sun/shade etc.

Answer: There are about 800 species of Rhododendrons and some like full sun, others prefer full to part shade. In your area (zone 5) the PJM hybrids will grow wonderfully well. Try 'Elite' with pink flowers, 'Marathon' with bright magenta flowers, or 'White Angel' with pale lavender buds turning to white as they open. Each of the above plants will thrive in full sunshine to part afternoon shade. All Rhododendrons need rich, well-draining, slightly acidic soil and simply will not grow in clay or highly alkaline soils. To ensure success, dig the planting bed deeply and incorporate peatmoss or leaf mold to help acidify the soil. Then plant your new rhody in a hole slightly larger than the rootmass and filling in with the amended soil. Water well and be sure to supply enough water to thoroughly soak the root mass once each week throughout the growing season, until the plant becomes established. Then you can apply one-inch of water per week to maintain plant health. Fertilize in the spring with an acid-based fertilizer, and once again after the blooms are spent. Mulch the soil under the plant with aged-compost to help keep the roots cool and moist, and to help suppress weeds. After bloom, snap the flower trusses off, being careful not to damage the buds directly below the trusses. (These are leaf and flower buds for next year's growth.) Hope the above helps you grow beautiful Rhododendrons.

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