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A Community of Rhododendron Lovers

I wanted to share with you two sections of the web site that are generated by the dedicated rhododendron community of the American Rhododendron Society.  First of all, The American Rhododendron Society(ARS) is group of dedicated plants owners formed into regional chapters throughout the country.  The people that make up the chapters are the true “boots on the ground” people who love and grow rhododendrons.  They have years of experience with planting and growing rhododendrons in their distinct regions.  The members of these chapters are a valuable resource for growing rhododendrons in their region.  There are two sections of the web site that were created based on their recommendations.
Suggested Rhododendrons by Region of the United States is a section that links what the members of specific regions consider good performers.  These are plants that the members of the local chapters have found to do well in their area year after year.  These are not the only plants that will grow in these regions, but are the plants that come highly recommended by the members. It is worth the time to browse these and neighboring sections to see if there are any that catch your eye.
The section Award Winning Rhododendrons is a list of rhododendrons that have received the Title of Rhododendron of the year by one or more of the growing regions of the ARS.  If your region has awarded a plant Rhododendron of the Year, it will have excellent foliage and flowers, have an attractive plant habit, be pest and disease resistant and be cold hardy for the region.
The American Rhododendron Society is an excellent resource for everything Rhododendron.  The members of the local chapters are some of the best people you can know.  If you have any knowledge to share or would enjoy spending time with plant loving people, I would encourage you to contact your local chapter and attend a meeting when the time is right! 

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Growing Rhododendrons in Containers

Rhododendrons can be grown in containers with success.  Having your plants in containers can give you many options for your landscaping.  It allows you to give “feet” to you plants to find the perfect location or to give them additional shelter during the winter months.  Container growing is also a great option when ground is not available such as on a deck or balcony. 
When you are growing a rhododendron, or any other plant in a container, it is very important to consider the resources that your plant will need during its life.  The larger the plant will grow, the more nutrition and water it will need to prosper.  When considering rhododendrons for containers, selecting plants that will not grow as large will allow you to plant into a container that you can move around without needing a forklift and also allow the plant to reach it’s potential.  Selecting a rhododendron that will grow to four feet tall and wide will allow the use of a fifteen-gallon container that is still mobile.  For each foot less in height, you can subtract five gallons in container size.  These sizes are approximate recommendations.
The soil medium that you choose is very important.  Rhododendrons need to have well drained soil.  A potting mix with sand works great.  Do not use the soil blends that hold moisture.  Make sure that the top of the root ball is at the soil level.  Spreading mulch or fine bark at the top of the container will give your plant a layer of insulation to help with water evaporation.
When you plant your rhododendron in a container rather than the ground, it will miss all the resources that the ground provides.  You will need to water your plant more often.  Leaving a saucer under the container is not recommended.  Remember, your plant wants to have moist roots, not wet roots.  You will also need to feed your plant on a regular basis.  Use a slow release fertilizer designed for rhododendrons.  We do sell a very good fertilizer on our web site, but you can also find it at your local nursery or big box store.  You will need to apply this fertilizer at least twice a year, following the directions on the package.
When your rhododendrons are in the ground, the earth acts as an insulator for the root system.  In a container, these roots are exposed to the large fluctuations of the daily temperatures.  Keep this in mind when placing your plants in direct sunlight.  You will want to avoid the container from getting too hot.  Also, in the winter, roots are exposed to the cold air temperatures.  If you get subzero temperatures, consider moving your plants out of areas of exposure.  A great place is by the house.  Rhododendrons do not like the temperatures and humidity of the house, so keeping them outside is the best idea. 
Container growing is a great way to add color to any place outside!

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Why We Sell Plants by Plant Width

We are a nursery that grows only rhododendrons.  We are different than your retail nursery down the street or the big box store in that we grow the product that we sell.  When you go to a retail nursery, all the plants on display were grown for that season only.  Our plants are grown and for sale from the second year onto almost fully grown plants.  Because we take care of this plant over what could be ten years or more, we have to transplant them into larger pots as they grow.  Rhododendrons tend to get a container shift from us about once every three years.  So at any given time, about 1/3 of our plants look like the plants you would see at a retail nursery where the top of the plant matches the container they are planted in.  Because we do not progressively move our pot size up every year, we sell our plants by width of the foliage and then give you the typical container size that you would find at a retail nursery of that size.  For example, a plant that we sell as an 8” to 12” plant would typically be sold at a retail nursery in a two-gallon container.  Our 8” to 12” wide plant could be in either a one, two or three-gallon size nursery container at our nursery. 

Please send us a message if you have any questions about sizing.  You may also what to look at understanding nursery container sizes.  A one-gallon nursery container does not even come close to holding one fluid gallon.  Learn More Here.

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Container Size

Container sizes for nursery plants is simply confusing. There is a government agency(ANSI) that worked with the American Nursery and Landscape Association to publish a 129-page guide on containers sizes for nursery plants. In the smaller size containers #1-10, the allowable sizes of these containers can vary up to 50%. When we also call a #1 container a one-gallon container and it would by no means hold a gallon of milk, we continue the confusion.
When this confusion results in the buyer being disappointed with the plant size they expected to receive, this becomes a real problem for customers who are buying their plants online. I have added some pictures below to give a general idea about the size of nursery containers based on common house hold items that we gauge with volume.
At rhododendrons direct, we are a little different in that we sell our plants by the foliage top, rather than the container size, but we do like to reference the typical size container the foliage spread in which it would be found. For more information on foliage spread, click here.

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The Most Common Problems for Ailing Rhododendrons

It is a privilege to be able to work with so many of my customers when they are having issues with their rhododendrons.  I wish I could just stop by your yard and have a conversation, but for most of the time we are limited to emails when there are sometimes hours or days that go by between the time we get to converse.  I wanted to share with you an article that was published by the American Rhododendron Society in 1994 by Jan D. Kelley.  I have shared this with many customers already and I hope that this article can help in two different ways.

This article my help preventing some of the issues that can occur later.  I enclose planting instructions with every plant we sell, but it does not cover the care of the plant.  Here are some Very, Very basic steps as to what to avoid. 

If your plant is struggling, you might find something in this article that may aid you in changing the environment for your plant.  I agree with the author that the great majority of rhododendrons that I see struggle have been planted in an environment that does not allow the soil to drain away excess water.  I hope that article may help in a few questions you may have.  I am always available via email for all questions!  Jim

 Top Causes of Death in Rhododendrons

Jan D. Kelley
Drain, Oregon

Our hopes soar with the coming of spring as we anticipate another excellent growing season for our rhododendrons with their exquisite flowers.  As we ponder the fantastic new hybrids in the pages of the several catalogs that we receive our vision of being successful gardeners bursts forth.  However, as you reflect upon last year’s plant losses a ray of doubt creeps into your consciousness, and the nagging question emerges: “Why did that plant die?”

For the past 15 years I have enjoyed raising rhododendrons.  During that period of time I believe that I have killed rhododendrons in every conceivable way.  In the remainder of this brief article I would like to identify some of the various ways that rhododendrons succumb in our yards and gardens.  My experience indicates that most rhododendrons die from about seven causes.

To begin with, excessive water kills about 75 percent of all rhododendrons purchased.  Rhododendrons are fibrous, shallow rooted plants that need good drainage to perform well.  Historically, gardeners have been told to dig a hole twice as wide and twice as deep as the root ball.  After the hole is completed put the plant in the hole and back-fill it with a mixture of peat, soil and other amendments. Many rhododendrons die from this guidance.  The result of digging the hole and planting the rhododendron in it is nothing more than putting the plant in a bathtub that holds excessive water.  The continual presence of water around the root ball prevents the roots from taking in vital oxygen as well as serving as an excellent incubation chamber for fungus diseases.  It seems that most of the native soils around the country have an excessive amount of clay in them.  The presence of clay in the soil prevents good drainage, which is vital to the growth of the rhododendrons. Anyone who has ever been to the several locations around the world where rhododendrons originate knows that rhododendrons grow in shallow beds of highly organic matter.  The drainage is typically excellent.

Another cause of rhododendron death is lack of water.  Rhododendrons do not have taproots like trees: their roots grow very near the surface.  Therefore, they need frequent watering.  The acquisition of new plants in the spring requires regular watering.  During the first couple of years watering the plants at least twice a week is a must.  As the time goes by and the plants increase in size and root development, watering less frequently works well.  After about five or six years it is possible to water weekly or even bi-weekly.  Frequently sunburned leaves are the result of the lack of water.  For many varieties that have burned in the sun in the past, the cause was lack of water not too much sun.  Burned tips on this year’s new growth is typically indicative of lack of water as the plant withdraws water from the tips of the new foliage first.

Another cause of rhododendron death is the excessive application of fertilizer.  This is particularly true of applying fertilizer directly at the base of the trunk of the plant.  A good rule of thumb is to fertilize more frequently with smaller amounts, rather than one large dose.  This is especially true for small plants or newly transplanted plants.

A fourth reason for rhododendron death is planting too deep.  As indicated earlier, rhododendrons are shallow rooted plants.  Their roots grow just below the soil line.  If they are placed too deep in the ground, the soil that covers the roots serves to smother them.  I have found that planting too deep will basically stop the plant from growing.  Eventually this leads to the death of the plant.

Another reason that rhododendrons die is from cold winter temperatures.  Most rhododendron sources indicate the lowest temperature range in which rhododendrons can be successfully grown.  This hardiness rating is a guide not an absolute!  In general, the lowest temperature during the past five years is a good guide for making selections based on hardiness.  Years ago there were very few plants that were hardy in -25°F for the extreme climates.  Now we have over 100 varieties that will survive those winter temperatures.  Gardeners in the East should select hardy varieties in the beginning.  With time and experience less hardy varieties can be successfully tried.  A rhododendron rated hardy to 5°F, no matter how beautiful it is, planted in Green Bay, Wisconsin, will not survive.

As more and more home gardeners in the Southern and Midwestern states begin to grow rhododendrons, increased attention must be paid to the hot summer sun.  Most varieties exposed to unprotected all-day sun are doomed.  However, there are available rhododendron varieties that can stand direct sun.  In general rhododendrons in extreme climates benefit from filtered light and partial shade.  Planting in a southern exposure without any protection from the sun nearly guarantees plant death.

Finally, if you create the right conditions most rhododendrons will be subject to fungus diseases.  Typically we combine several fungus diseases into a general category of “die-back.”  The results of the disease are seen during the late spring when the plant is just beginning to grow and all of a sudden it drops dead.  It is also seen during the summer when a branch turns brown and dies.  Frequently the ailing plant will be lost.  These phytophthora-type diseases are generally the result of conditions created by the gardener, as it is believed that the disease spores are present in the soil all over the country.  Some of the ways that we promote these organisms is by planting the rhododendron too deep, thus providing a water culture for the development of the disease organisms.  Puddles of water that remain more than an hour after watering also harbor disease.  Watering in the late afternoon or evening encourages disease development.  Finally, failure to use fungicides during the late spring and summer encourages the development of fungus.

In conclusion, you are not alone if you have lost plants to any of the above mentioned causes of rhododendron death.  Most of the causes can be overcome with the intelligent selection of plants that are suited to your geographical area.  Finally, think about where and how you planted your rhododendrons and what you did to promote their death.

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Giving Branch Structure to Your First and Second Year Rhododendrons

Purchasing a smaller, younger Rhododendron has its advantages and comes with a few added responsibilities of the owner.  I would like to share with you some tips on creating a plant that will grow into a larger plant with added shape.

Most Rhododendrons will naturally grow to meet the minimal needs of the plant.  If left to grow out on their own, they tend to have fewer branches and usually favor a side that will have taller or wider branches.  When we have Rhododendrons in our groomed landscape, most owner want to have a shape that is more traditional and provides the most blooms for color.  If a shapely plant is desired, the owner of this plant needs to take a few steps in the first couple of years to ensure that the branching starts from the beginning.

We have been so pleased that many of our customers have selected first and second year plants.  For the most part, these sizes have not been available to the consumer because of the extra steps that need to take place to ensure a plant that meets the plant structure standards of most home gardeners.

Speaking in general for most rhododendrons, they will put on at least one new set of growth each year.  Most first year plants that we sell will arrive to you with at least two branches.  In order to achieve a shapely plant, you will want to encourage your plant to grow multiple sets of branches in the next growing season.  This is simply achieved by using a pair of scissors and pruning your plant about half way up the branch.  This pruning will encourage new branch growth below the cut.  There is a lot of variation in plants, but typically you should expect between 2 and 5 additional branches to form from this single cut.

In the second year of grow, we follow the same steps.  When a plant has started to develop larger branches during this second year, many times you can actually see the branch buds on them stems.  It is ideal to make you cut about ¼” above the bud to promote growth in that bud and in other buds on the same branch.  Ideal buds to trim above are buds that are pointing to the outside of the plant.

Timing is important when you are trimming branches.  New growth from your plants can take 6-8 weeks to “harden off” and make them less susceptible to freezing conditions.  If you are located in a place with longer growing periods, you may get two “flushes” of new growth in one season.  If you are happy with the shape and the number of branches that you plant has, trimming just as your plants are coming out of dormancy is ideal and may allow some of the new branching to produce flower buds.  Typically, flower buds set for the next year right after a plant blooms.  This fist “flush” of new growth when trimmed early can set flower buds.  If you are working on structure, you can trim growth on second year right out of dormancy plus possibly again when the stems are rigid or when you can see the stem buds. Make sure that you do not do any trimming with less than six to eight weeks before the first frost, or you may lose the new growth.

The first couple of years of growth are a great time to achieve balance in you plant.  If you are seeing one side of your plant that is heavier with branches than the other or if you are seeing branches that are much taller than others, removal of the branch or trimming the branch back to a stem bud that will bring it back to the shape of the plant is ideal to do in the first couple of years.

Purchasing First and Second year plants is really a lot of fun.  I am always amazed at how quickly the babies grow and become amazing looking plants.  There are volumes of literature written about the information above.  I encourage you to spend some time with a couple of books from the library or visit the web site of The American Rhododendron Society for great information.  Changes are, the questions that you might have, have been asked before and have been answered by people with great knowledge and experience.  As always, please feel free to email us at

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A Few Tips on Winterizing your Rhododendrons

I thought that I might also share some tips with you as to how best to prepare your plants for cold weather. These tips are mostly from The American Rhododendron Society( who are a great source of information for rhododendron growers.IMG_2060

  • Hydration is important for the winter. If you have the ability for a good soaking in late fall and covering with mulch that will hold the moisture and insulate the ground around the root system as long as possible, your plants can use this moisture intake to help their systems during the freezing winter months.
  • Protection from drying winds. Planting I areas that are sheltered from winds are recommended. If you have plants that may have wind exposure, creating a wind break or wrapping in burlap can help protect them.
  • If you plants are in containers, move them to areas that are close to the house and/or onto the ground where they can use the warmth that is radiated by the heat of the house and ground.
  • A customer from Connecticut suggested spraying with a 5:1 dilution of Wilt-Pruf in November on a dry day above freezing. This will help in preventing wind damage.  He reminded me how difficult it can be to spread a trap or burlap on mature plants that can be 15 feet tall!  Thank you Bruce!  Here is a link to Wilt-Pruf on amazon.
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Phytophthora (Root Rot) in Rhododendrons

I have received many questions about rhododendrons that could be considered “tolerant” to Phytophthora from people who have lost plants during the long, warm wet summer. Digging into the archives, I found this article that was published in 1975 by the American Rhododendron Society by research done at The Ohio State University.  Though this article was published over 40 years about, many of the hybrids and the species rhododendrons that were available at the time are still available today.   I do not carry any on the very short list of resistant hybrids, however I do offer many that are on the second short list  of “moderately resistant” and “more tolerant”.  These are the plants that we currently offer that are on this list:

English Roseum( Purple, Hardy to -10, 7 Feet)

Mrs. C B Van Nes (Dark Pink, Hardy to 0, 5 Feet) Only limited number available in one gallons – please e-mail.

Rocket (Dark Pink, Hardy to 0, 5 feet)

Roseum Elegans ( Pink, Hardy -10, 7 Feet)

The Honourable Jean Marie de Montague (Red, Hardy to -10, 5 Feet)

Vulcan (Red, Hardy to -10, 5 Feet)

Vulcan’s Flame (Red, Hardy to -10, 5 Feet)

I do not carry any of the species plants that are tolerant or moderately tolerant.  Due to the age of this article, there may have been new hybrids that have been introduced or further research done to determine tolerance.  Any new information I receive, I will post to this blog.  Thank you!  Jim