A Damn Good Guide to Growing Magnificent Rhododendrons Through the Year

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A young plant of Rhododendron 'Maruschka', showing the black leaves it has all winter.
Some varieties, such as this young plant of Rhododendron ‘Maruschka’, have black leaves all winter.

“Things reveal themselves passing away.” Although this quote is often attributed to William Yeats, I couldn’t trace it to him. Whenever a plant dies on you, however, there has to be a reason, and this group of plants is notorious for not being durable and adaptable.

The primary reason rhododendrons die on people splits into two related factors: unsuitable soil and inadequate drainage. Keep in mind that in the wild, rhododendrons grow on the sides of mountains and the banks of streams. People who fail often plant them on flat ground. Try a slope, and remember they need loose, fluffy soil like you find under trees in the woods. Since the roots are shallow, mulch lightly if you do.

Second point: If a plant lives but doesn’t flourish, try moving it to a sunnier spot.

January: Appreciate varieties that have black winter leaves, such as ‘Black Satin’, ‘Ginny Gee’, PJM types, and ‘Maruschka’. Take advantage of warm beverages needed on cold mornings: Collect coffee grounds to distribute around plants once winter ends. Coffee grounds are good as a source of nitrogen that isn’t too strong, but note that they don’t make the soil more acidic. Pay your American Rhododendron Society membership dues or join a chapter. Browse nursery web sites and catalogs for inspiration. Read more

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