I’ll admit it; I was not a great lover of Rhododendrons. I didn’t actually see the point of them, with anemic looking leaves, a flashy show of colour and then more anemic looking leaves.
It was not until I was invited to help deadhead and trim perennials in the spectacular garden of two very dear people I know that this has changed.
It was late summer and there were no blooms on the very stately layered masses of rhododendrons.
They were lush, healthy and planted where they should be on peaty humic soil, as an under story and layered in amongst one another fringed with native plants, ferns, hosta and numerous other lovelies.
Even then, they looked as if they belonged and merged in with the west coast forest landscape, you should see them now!!
There are the varying textures of the Rhododendron varieties. Some have huge tropical looking quilted leaves that are juxtaposed with others that have smaller convex leaves and fuzzy undersides.
Fringed with Maidenhair ferns, it was a study in texture and subtle shading worthy of an art school. In spite of my stubborn insistence on making proper pruning cuts when deadheading the Astilbe…which would be knocked back in a month with the first hard frost of fall( I was fresh from Horticulture design and maintenance school), they invited me back in the spring.
When I drove down that driveway in spring my breath was taken away by one rhododendron with such a glorious amount of soft pink and white blooms that I don’t believe I recall even seeing the leaves.
As I rounded the corner of the house it looked like Monet had painted a landscape on a marquee sized canvas that gently curved and disappeared off in the distance.
Without sounding hormonal, I did almost cry. I have a soft spot in my heart for Rhododendrons from that day onward…in spite of the fact you can’t eat them. Their display is so earnest and joyful.
I have seen Rhodo’s trapped in lava rock prisons in the dry baking sun still trying to bloom their little hearts out using up their last bit of energy in a blast of colour and light rather than putting the energy into their remaining 3 leaves. They will try their best for you, and they will reward you for even the smallest bit of effort towards giving them the care they need, which is actually not a lot.
Rhododendrons appreciate an acid loamy soil, so avoid manures, bonemeal and lime. Peat mulches, pine mulches and composted hemlock/fir mulches work nicely thank you. Even the larger specimens have a very small root mass.
This means that you do not plant them too deeply, in heavy soil.
Do not plant them in lava rock in the baking hot sun…bad karma.
Keep their roots cool and moist but not wet. Now, I’m sure you’ve seen them in less than ideal positions…but you will be amazed at the display they will put forth if located in ideal conditions.
You can apply rhododendron food early spring before bloom and after bloom depending on the fertilizer used. You can deadhead if you like, without ripping off the new growth. I don’t usually have time and they work just fine.
Companion planting is surprisingly easy as their roots are not invasive or greedy.
Try to mass different varieties with different colours and bloom times, and just as important, leaf textures.
Under plant with fine textured plants such as Maidenhair Ferns and Japanese Painted Ferns. Contrast the deep green leaves with underplantings of the blue flowering and silvery leaved Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’, or the delicate arching leaves of the Bleeding Heart…the golden leaved variety would be breathtaking as would Corydalis ‘Blue Panda’.
Hostas work amazingly well massed among the Rhododendrons as do Lilly of the Valley.
The Hardy fuchsia, again the golden leaved variety or variegated varieties would be amazing and I could prattle on and on but I think Rebecca would give me the evil eye.
If you would like to share companion planting ideas, you can comment on our blog or even come in to the nursery and visit us. We all have our favorites we can share with you!
My Favourite Rhododendrons:
Rhododendron ‘Dora Amateis’ – this was the first Rhodo I fell in love with.
Rhododendron ‘Snow Lady’
Any of the Yakushimanum hybrids – I adore their fuzzy leaf undersides. (ie, Yaku Princess)
Rhododendron catawbiense ‘Album’
Rhododendron 'Hotei' - an attractive yellow flowered variety
Rhododendron ‘Holy Moses’…alright, I am a sucker for a good name.
Rhododendron ‘Nancy Evans’…a study in false advertising. You can look at the buds and then come back later to see the blossoms. I chuckle every time. I once with great delight got a phone call from a great lady, a landscape client with whom I became friends with who chewed me out for planting a red rhodo when she wanted yellow. Wait and see, I told her. She called me back in a week laughing.
Rhododendron ‘Percy Wiseman’
Rhododendron 'President Roosevelt'
Rhododendron campylogynum - cool dwarf
Rhododendron sinogrande – for those of you with a sheltered site…you have to check out the pictures of this giant!!
Rhododendron Loderi varieties – these beauties are lightly scented!!
Art's Nursery carries a huge, year round selection of Rhododendrons and many potential companion plants. If you would like more information about Rhododendrons and how they can be used in your garden, please visit or give us a call at 604.882.1201. We'd be happy to help!