Proper planting of your rhododendron is the first step in the care for your plant. After receiving your plant, it is best to get it into the ground as soon as possible. If for some reason, planting needs to be delayed for a couple of days, it is best that the plants are removed from the shipping box. Plants can go through many temperature zones during transportation that can impact their appearance on arrival. Drooping leaves and a dry root ball is common on arrival and your plant will revive. Getting water to the root ball and air circulating around the plant as soon as possible is important. If you plant is not going into the ground right away, remove the zip tie from around the stem of the plant and poke several holes in the bottom of the plastic bag holding the root ball. Add water to the bag filling up the bag and allow the bag to drain through the holes. Your plant wants to have a moist root ball, but not wet. Place the plant in a spare plant container or prop it upright so that the root ball can drain and air can circulate around the plant. Leave it in a shady, cool, protected spot outside. Check the root ball daily to make sure that it remains moist. Do not bring your plants into the house while they are waiting to be planted, the humidity in our houses is usually too low for the rhododendrons. Your plant should perk up in 48 hours.
Rhododendrons are shallow rooted plants and will live in the top 18” of soil. To prepare the area for the plant, dig a hole as wide as the top of the plant and about 6” deeper than the root ball. We recommend only adding organic material to your soil initially so that the plant does not go into shock. We recommend using fine fir back or pine bark mixed with the existing soil at a 50/50 ratio if the soil is compacted. If your soil drains poorly (water does not drain out of a hole you have filled with water in 60 minutes), consider planting your rhododendron on a mound. There is no need to prepare a root ball other than to make sure it is going into the ground moist. Plant the rhododendron so that the top of the root ball is even with the surface of the soil. Once planted, you should see a single stem emerging from the soil and an outline of the root ball even with the surface.
It is important to water your plants regularly while they are establishing a root system. Using the same irrigation system that is used on established plant may not be enough water for your new plant. Check the soil around your new plant by putting your finger into the soil and making sure that it is moist, not dry or wet. As you plant establishes, it is OK to use a slow release fertilizer that comes in pellets on the surface of the soil.
Every landscape if different and every yard has a different climate zone. The continued care of your plant will not be a “one size fits all” instruction. There are fantastic books published on the care of Rhododendrons and The American Rhododendron Society (https://www.rhododendron.org/planting.htm and https://www.rhododendron.org/) is a great resource for planting and care information. They also list contact information for local chapter that are great resources for your area.