The Q&A Archives: Planting Rhododendrons

Question: How should rhododendrons be planted in Maine. Soil has clay content.

Answer: Some rhodies like full sunshine and others prefer full shade. There are even some cultivars that like a little of each. If you aren't sure what you have, to be on the safe side,try giving your rhodie morning sun and afternoon shade. If it refuses to bloom, or if the leaf color fades, it might need more sunshine, but be careful because too much sun will burn the leaves and turn them brown. You can experiment by putting the potted rhodie in a place you think is right and letting stay there for a summer. If it blooms happily, you can plant it permanently. If it sulks, move it to another location.

Dig a hole about 2 times wider than the root mass, and just as deep. Place the shrub into the hole making sure it's at the same level it was growing before. Water it well and make sure it gets water on a regular basis until it becomes adjusted to its new home. Although rhodies prefer acidic soil conditions, amending backfill is only temporary. In other words, when the soil amendments break down, the same conditions still exist. And, as roots reach outwards through the soil, they'll be leaving that improved hole behind, so, it's better to let roots adjust to the soil they will be growing in. However, if your clay soil is constantly wet with poor drainage, the roots will rot, so you'd need to amend with plenty of organic matter (compost) and perhaps some pea gravel to improve drainage. Monitor soil moisture while plants establish, but don't let it become saturated. Wait to fertilize until plants are established, then use a product formulated for acid-loving plants such as rhodies and azaleas. Good luck!

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