The Q&A Archives: care of rhododendron

Question: My rhododendron is looking very sparse and has some leaves that are looking pale and yellow. It has a lot of beautiful flowers but the plant doesen't look very good when the flowers are gone. What can I do to help it become healthy and full like it was when it was new?

Answer: If your rhodie is flowering, it is at least somewhat happy in its growing site. Rhododendrons are acid loving plants. They grow best in light shade, and need protection from midday sun and winter sun. They prefer a moist, well drained soil with a pH of 5.5.Check the soil pH before planting, especially if planting along a foundation where soils tend to be more alkaline. Adjust the pH, as needed. Mix in plenty of inorganic matter, and well rotted manure.

Selection of a location is important. Rhododendrons can be harmed or killed by sustained winds and by too much direct sunlight. Select a location out of the direct sunlight if possible. Protection from strong midday sun and winter sunlight is important. Otherwise the leaves can dry out and/or burn. Northern exposures are best. It is also important to provide protection from winds. A low lying area, or one protected by a building or a hedgerow is a good choice.

Rhododendrons prefer a moist soil. It is important to water the plants during extended dry spells, even in the fall.

Using pine needles (acidic pH) as mulch works to help keep the soil moist, and maintain/add acidity to the soil. Roots are shallow, so mulching will help to keep the weeds down, without disturbing the root system.

If you haven't alred fed your rhodie, now's a good time. Use an acidified fertilizer made especially for azaleas and rhododendrons, and apply according to package directions.

Best wishes with your rhodie!

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