Rhody Rhapsody

A closer look at rhododendron flower in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

A closer look at rhododendron flowers (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

When I first started selecting plants and shrubs for my gardens, rhododendrons were the furthest thing from my mind.  I thought of them as mundane, one hit wonders that flowered once in the spring and then quietly retired into the landscape.  And then a neighbor brought me a small shrub to welcome us to the neighborhood (he later admitted that his goats kept eating it, so it was more of a rescue gift).  I planted it rather unceremoniously, without pomp and circumstance, at the back corner of my house where it would be somewhat protected from the hot afternoon sun.  After all, shady locations are at a premium on my property, that is to say, I really don’t have any.

Rhododendron paired with 'Nellie Moser' clematis in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Rhododendron paired with ‘Nellie Moser’ clematis (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

I don’t recall watering or tending to this orphan (although memory hasn’t been my strong suit lately, anyway), but somehow this little munchkin survived.  It not only survived, but grew so tall that I can no longer reach the top branches to prune, even when I stand on my short ladder.  And showy, why in late spring this wallflower turns into the Cinderella of the ball with enormous pink blossoms busting open from head to toe.  When paired with a low growing partner such as ladies mantle (alchemilla mollis) that just happens to bloom around the same time with delicate sprays of lemony yellow, it’s a combination that can’t be beat.  Just for kicks, throw in a complementary clematis like the bombshell “Nellie Moser” and you’re in for a thrilling spring ride.

Rhododendron's buds await spring in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Rhododendron’s buds await spring (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

After my great success (although I really cannot take full credit) with the one rhody,  I decided to replace some boxwoods with rhododendrons when we revamped the foundation plantings at the front of our house.  A decision I have not regretted, as rhodies remain evergreen like the boxwoods, but their leaf form is a little bolder and offers more texture.  Rhododendrons also have an added bonus that no boxwood can offer, a wide range of flower choices both in size and color (some even fragrant!); from white and pastel pink to violet red, orange and yellow.  For me the blossom color is secondary, because the blooms usually last only a few weeks.  It’s the foliage and form of the rhododendron that made me reconsider, and I’m not looking back.

Rhododendron cloaked in pink blossoms in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Rhododendron cloaked in pink blossoms-a far cry from it’s former “goat snack” self (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Rhododendrons, of which there are over 800 species in the genus, range from Europe, Asia, China, India and North America. Generally speaking, rhododendrons are very easy to care for and require little in the form of maintenance.  Rhodies will thrive in a moist, but well drained location with morning to early afternoon sun exposure and protection from winds to avoid leaf scorch.  If you have an older rhododendron that has grown leggy and tall, it might benefit from some pruning (right after blooming ceases), but otherwise a *light application of fertilizer formulated for acid loving plants in May (*don’t overdo, as rhodies have shallow roots that could be damaged from over fertilizing) and removal of dried blossoms (easy to snap off) is about all the work you’ll have to invest to get decades of reliable beauty in return.

Vibrant rhododendron blossoms in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Vibrant rhododendron blossoms (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Note: I don’t claim any expertise in varieties of rhododendrons, and instead recommend you visit your local nursery to see what appeals to you personally.  If you would like to get a head start on your list, visit The American Rhododendron Society at: www.rhododendron.org, which provides lists of recommended plants for every region along with detailed flower images.

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Comments

  1. These are GORGEOUS!!!! All of mine are about 50yrs old…. Now you have me thinking of what color I want next to the house….

    • The color choices are unbelievable now, but I recommend trying to see the shrub in bloom rather than thinking it will resemble the tag-as they often don’t! Also, some bloom at different times, so you can try to extend the flowering period as well.

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