Growing Rhododendrons

Care of rhododendrons and a description of their families.

Are you growing Rhododendrons and Azaleas? If you are, you already know they both belong to a familiar, but distinctive, family of plants, the family of the Heath, or Ericacea and these are placed in a category of "ericaceous plants." All ericaceous plants possess certain definite similarities of form and flower structure which separate them into a distinct group The very similar bell-shaped flowers formed by the joining of petals, always four or five, is a distinctive trademark. They also possess another relationship of particular significance, for the most part they all abhore lime and have a marked preference for acid soils. They will perish in a highly prepared alkaline garden soil.

Now one of these plants can be evergreen as the Rhododendrons and the Azaleas usually lose their leaves in the winter. Botanists recognize these differences but still feel they should be grouped into one catagory. All are botanically classified as Rhododendrons, and if you are looking for a description of the Azalea it will be listed with the Rhodendrons.

Almost all of the American Azaleas are adaptable to garden culture. Most are easy to grow, are very healthy and all are attractive. To me the purple Rhodora (r. canadense), exquisitve with its tiny, strap-like petals and gray foliage is the most beautiful of all. I also like the tender and seldom seen in many gardens, the orange (R. austrinum) and the brilliant red, rare (R. prunifolium). I have all three of these and I do treasure them.

The climate of the Pacific northwest is one of the better areas of the country to grow Rhododendroms and they are increasing greatly in numbers in that area. They do not thrive in a really dry area or where the winters are very sevree. They would be easy to grown along the seadboard strips. The plant breeders are working hard to provide strains of these plants that can withstand colder,drier winters and hot summers.

Rhododendrons are also grown as hybrids such as the Rhododendron griffithianum, a beautiful, large-flowered but tender species from the Hilalayas. The Loderi group, (R. fortunei) also plays an important part in Rhododendron hybridization in the United States, these species promise good flower size, fragrance and fine, clean color in addition to fair hardiness, well worth planting.

There are several groups of hybrid Azales, the Ghent and Mollis strains rank high, but I do need to mention the so called "Indian Azaleas" nad the "Japanese Kurumes". These are beautiful. There parentage is a greneral inter-mixture among R. indicum, simsi, pulchrum and mucronatum. The "Macrantha Hybrids," in which R. indicum seems to predominate, are large-flowerd and considerable hardier. I don't want to leave out the Kurume Azaleas, they are drawfish, small leaved, small flowers, semi evergeen and are widely planted in gardens. A lot of people will plant them in masses, but I don't agree with this method of planting, I would rather have the single plants.

Where climinate and soil are at all suitable, an abundance of species and varieties is available.

The Rhododenrons require moisture at the roots and if at all possible, in the air. Lack of air moistre can be partically compensated for by having overhead shade and by extra emphasis on proper soil conditions. They also require good drainage as it is essential. Light, friable, organic soils with abundant leaf mold and peat will hold the necessary moisture and air at the same time. Such soils, too, are acid, with a pH reading of between 4.0 and 5.5. Always remember tat Rhododendrons do not thrive well in lime, or in limestone.

I do hope this article has helped you to make the decision to grow these beautiful flowers if possible in your area.

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