My friend Paree the Prada Girl just bought a new house. Remember, she’s the girl who doesn’t garden. So she sold her relatively low maintenance house and purchased a house with a high maintenance yard. I will write more about this in another post.
I’m trying to give Paree and her hubby a little advice on plant care. Their yard is fairly shady and I noticed that they have a lot of rhododendrons and azaleas. These beautiful plants are starting to look a bit stressed, so I thought that I would write about caring for them.
Rhododendrons and azaleas are closely related plants that fall under the genus rhododendron. Rhododendrons are evergreen. They are larger with big leathery leaves. Some grow to well over ten feet. They produce large flowers at the end of their branches.
Azaleas are smaller and more compact with smaller leaves and blooms. Some are evergreen some are deciduous. Both rhododendrons and azaleas bloom in early spring. Their blooms tend to be vibrant, and mostly in shades of red, purple, pink and white. Azaleas are covered with blooms in the spring. Both rhododendrons and azaleas like light shade, although some species of azaleas can take a lot of sunlight.
They love acidic well-drained soil with lots of organic matter in it, soil that isn’t soggy or clay like. The soil should be moist, however they will die if they sit in water for too long. Rhododendron and azaleas will not survive in dry conditions. They need soil that is both fast draining and water retentive.
If there is not enough acid in the soil, the leaves will turn yellow and the edges with look burnt. You can treat this by applying fertilizer made for acid loving plants, and or iron chelate. Be careful though, you don’t want to overdo it. You might even experiment by using a dosage that is half what the label suggests. Better to fertilize half as much twice as often.
When you plant a rhododendron, dig a hole that is two or three times as big as the plant’s container. Lift the plant from the container and place it the hole. Fill in the area around the root ball with highly organic soil. Soil amended with sphagnum peat moss is good for acidity. Make sure you plant your rhododendron with the top of the root ball showing. Never allow the soil to bury the stems.
When rhododendrons are first planted, make sure they get enough water. Their roots are fine and they take a long time to grow into the surrounding area. At first they will rely on the moisture from their root ball. Make sure the root ball is getting wet and not just the surrounding area. Both Azaleas and rhododendron are surface rooters and will benefit from mulch. Mulch with pine needles, oak leaves, redwood or fir chips.
To keep your plants looking full and healthy, you will need to prune them.
Prune rhododendrons in spring before they bloom. You will have to give up some of the blooms, but it is the best time to prune.
You can pinch back azaleas frequently after they are done blooming, through August.
Paree, this is your first gardening lesson. Aren’t you excited? O.K., forget it, let’s just go shoe shopping.
I found this picture of me on a rhododendron farm and the tea I was drinking almost came out my nose. See, when I get around flowers I get so excited I forget to dress myself properly. What am I wearing? Scary.