In the next few days many rhododendrons and azaleas and other so called ‘lime hating’ plants are going to burst into bloom! These are spectacular and have few seasonal rivals. But that ‘lime hating’ bit puts lots of gardeners off growing these beautiful hardy plants and it shouldn’t.
There are almost a thousand species and varieties of rhododendrons and azaleas and many are far too big for all but the grandest of plot. However, the type that you will find in your local nursery and garden centre will very rarely include these tree-like types. No, what you will find is neat, compact growing varieties that are easy to look after, produce flowers every year with ease and look good even when not blooming!
What is on offer is compact rhododendrons bred from especially hardy and neat growing species from the Far East. Many of these Rhododendrons are developed from a species growing on a cold wind-swept Japanese island called Yakushima. But of course, evergreen azaleas [which are also rhododendrons] came from the Far East too.
Growing in Pots
Both rhododendrons and azaleas are the perfect plants for growing in pots and there we can provide the lime free soil that they need. This is often sold as ‘Ericaceous’ potting compost. The roots of these plants are fine and very compact so large containers are not vital for them but, since they hate to dry out, a large pot will make life easier for you and keep the plants happier between waterings. Rain water is preferred to tap water, at least in the Bristol Water served area, but perhaps where you are reading this you have soft water.
What to feed Rhododendrons and azaleas
Nutrient needs for this group of plant are low and generally half of what other plants require. The exception to this would be Camellias which do remarkably well on liquid tomato feed in spring and summer. Plants with yellow foliage can be improved by feeding with seaweed based fertiliser which contains many useful trace elements. I’m told that sequestered iron, the normal answer to this problem, is soon to disappear so if you can find any snap it up and store it for future use!
Since many originate in woodlands, this group of evergreen plants do best in cooler and shady places in the garden so if you are wondering what to grow on the north facing side of your house these are good contenders.
HTA Plant of the Month [April]
Frances Tophill, presenter on ITV’s Love Your Garden and the Horticultural Trades Association celebrity champion for the Rhododendron says, “These stunning and perpetually cheerful shrubs flower in all sorts of vibrant colours during spring when we tend to think of most of the colour coming from bulbs”.
“Rhododendron will survive in most acidic soils and need hardly any pruning. And don’t be fooled into thinking that they provide spring flower and nothing more. In fact most species we buy for the garden are evergreen so even in the depths of winter their deep, glossy leaves will provide colour. I would thoroughly recommend that anyone make a space in their garden for this easy to maintain and beautiful plant,” adds Frances.
Plants and products that look good with them
There’s no shortage of other plants to compliment rhododendrons and azaleas in your shady spot. Japanese maples and Pieris are noted for their beautiful leaf colour and the latter has very attractive bell shaped blooms that bees love too! Smaller growing Mahonia, Skimmia, Sacred Bamboo [Nandina] and bamboo itself all look good in pots with these and further enhance the Far Eastern theme. Wind chimes, lanterns, driftwood and beach pebbles added to the scene will complete and compliment the display with little extra cost or effort.