The Q&A Archives: Wilting Rhododendrons

Question: I purchased 4 evergreen Rhododendrons this spring from a local nursery. All four were in beautiful condition and in full bloom when I brought them home. I planted 2 on the east side and 2 on the west side of our house. All four were planted in raised beds, with the base of the plant about 2" above the top of the soil and covered with mulch.

I now have three plants (two on the west, one on the east) with their leaves wilting and curled in a upside-down U shape (like a frown). The other plant is doing fine. None of the plants have any flowers left, but all of the leaves are green (with the exception of a little bit of wind burn due to high winds earlier this spring).

I have fertilized them with an acidic fertilizer and made sure that the ground remains moist. Any suggestions on why they might be wilting and how to perk them up? Also, is it normal for them to only flower in the spring?

Answer: Most rhodies bloom only in the spring, leaving their glossy green leaves to take the stage for the rest of the year.

The plants should be set so the root ball is at the same depth in the bed as it was in the pot - in other words, no roots should be left exposed, even if you cover them with mulch. This could lead to the roots drying out, and subsequent wilting.

If the soil under the raised beds is very sandy or primarily clay, the soil may be draining too quickly, or not quickly enough to satisfy the rhodies. Ideal soil is rich in humus that holds moisture, but is quite porous (like that in a lush woodland). You can re-set the plants in improved soil early in the fall when the weather cools down. Mix peat moss, compost and leaf mold into the soil in the planting holes and within a foot diameter of their mature size.

Another explanation for wilting might be phytophora root rot, a fungal disease that attacks in poorly drained soil. Once it attacks, there is no cure. It's also possible to overfertilize plants, especially with chemical fertilizers, which can burn tender roots. Be sure to follow the instructions on the fertilizer label. I hope this information helps you determine what is ailing your rhodies -- best of luck!

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