In Season: Rhododendron

While they have a ubiquity that can make you take these spring flowering shrubs for granted, there are at least three reasons why you need to plant (or plant more) rhodies:

  • Astonishing spring flowers that come in a range of sumptuous colors and seem to appear from out of nowhere after a long, cold winter. Quite the pick-me-up in the window after witch hazel shrubs flowers but before the lilacs bloom.
  • Speaking of winter, they’re one of the few shrubs that stay reliably evergreen during the worst of the season. And, they’re elegant when paired with that other winter stalwart, conifers.
  • They grow best in the light shade including the north side of the house (not the easiest place for plants), and thrive in acid soils, even under high-canopied conifers.

Most are hardy in zones 5 – 8, though there are a few that can take more chill and others that can take a bit more heat. Many are compact in habit and fill the voids around foundations and in front of taller shade-lovers, but if you need height, some can get large. Choose carefully now to avoid unnecessary pruning for size later. Planted now they’ll bring on a bit of bloom, but next spring, get out of the way. They’ll be cloaked in festive color.

If you need recommendations for a certain spot, use the comments section below.

Roseum Elegans Rhododendron

What: Vigorous-growing with large trusses of rose-lilac flowers. Zone: 4 – 8

When: Late spring

Best Feature: Moderate-size is ideal for narrow side yards or against fences.

Cunningham’s White Rhododendron

What: Perfect middle-of-the-shade-border sparkling-white flowering shrub. Zone: 5 – 8

When: Spring

Best Feature: Very dark, rich-green foliage.

Elviira Rhododendron

What:  Brilliant-red trusses from head-to-toe on even young plants. Zone: 4 – 8

When: Spring

Best Feature: Super-compact habit makes a lovely low hedge or shady border.

P.J.M. Rhododendron

What: North American native with bright lavender-pink blooms on a medium-sized shrub. Zone: 4 – 8

When: Early Spring

Best Feature: Very cold hardy.

Yellow Petticoats Rhododendron

What:  Profuse, clear, deep-yellow, frilly flowers on a compact shrub. Zone: 6 – 9

When: Spring

Best Feature: Performs well in warmer zones.

Haaga Rhododendron

What: Abundant blooms in shades from pale pink to deep rose all at the same time. Zone: 4 – 8

When: Spring

Best Feature:  Flowers appear on even young plants.

Nova Zembla Rhododendron

What: Taller shrub dazzles with big color. Zone: 4 – 8

When: Spring

Best Feature:  Dense foliage is great for foundations or hedges.

September Song Rhododendron

What: Unique, exotic combo of pink, yellow, and orange blooms in an open, loose truss.

When: Spring

Best Feature: Adds depth to evergreen forested settings.

Dwarf Purple Rhododendron

What:  Container cutie for the shady patio! Zone: 5 – 8

When: Late Spring

Best Feature: Also a great woody groundcover under taller trees.

Keeping Rhodie Happy

  • Provide well-drained, acidic soil, rich in organic matter.
  • Avoid harsh sun and wind.
  • Mulch to keep roots cool.
  • Follow a regular watering schedule during the first growing season to establish a deep, extensive root system.
  • Feed with an acid fertilizer after bloom.
  • Pruning time: spring after flowering.

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