The Q&A Archives: PLanting Conditions for Rhododendrons

Question: I have a spot in my yard that is very hard to get anything to grow in. It is near a pine tree and anything that I have planted in the past seems to fail. I was told that a rhododendron could possibly do well there. How can I find out if this is a good place for a rhododendron and what should I do to prepare to optimize the growth of the plant?

Answer: Rhododendrons thrive in acidic soils, which is probably what your pine tree is contributing to the soil as the needles fall. Some rhodies like full sunshine and others prefer full shade. There are even some cultivars that like a little of each. Before you plant a rhodie, consider how far away the shrub will be from the tree. Pines produces mats of feeder roots just below the soil surface. These roots will compete with other plants for moisture and nutrients, so the acidic soil near it might also be full of competing roots. Since the pine is bigger, it will take the majority of food and water from the soil. This might be why you've been having trouble getting plants to grow near the tree. A shallow-rooted groundcover such as Vinca minor might be a better choice for the area. If you decide on a shrub, dig a planting hole large enough to accommodate the rootmass without crowding, place the shrub in the hole, positioned so it will grow at the same level as it was in the pot, backfill with native soil and water well. Be sure to supply one-inch of water per week to your new plant to help it become established.

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