Introduction to Rhododendrons
The moment you hear the word “rhododendron”, you immediately think that the name sounds familiar, especially in gardening circles. But it is surprising to know that even though most gardeners are familiar with the term “rhododendrons”, and many of us are going to recognize a flower of this genus, when he received, comparatively few people realize the possibilities and scope of this genus in its magnificence and potential.
The whole genus includes the original varieties and different species, as well as hybrids. The ancient Greeks and Romans knew about the value of these pretty flowering trees, and they gave this genus its name that has come down the centuries – Rhodon for Rose, and “dendron” for tree. But even though this genus may be called Rhododendron, you are going to find very few tree species here.
More than 1000 woody plants make up this family. They are either deciduous, or evergreen. They are supposedly native to the Himalayan regions of Asia and major portion of China and Myanmar but they are still widespread all over the Appalachian Mountains and oak – heath forests in North America. That is the reason why a number of States have rhododendrons, as their state flowers. These include West Virginia in the US as well as Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir in India.
Cultivation of Rhododendrons
Surprisingly enough, hybrid rhododendrons may be attractive in their own way, but they are not quite as magnificent as the species from which they have been derived. However, unfortunately, it is rather difficult for you to obtain the two species, because for that you will have to go to China or the mountain fastnesses of the Himalayas, where they still bloom in full glory throughout the year.
I remember going to these mountains, and seeing miles and miles of rhododendrons in full bloom, and they were tall trees. The natives of course to them for granted and gathered the flowers to make the traditional Rhododendron squash, which had to be taken home by every tourist.
Unfortunately I did not have a camera by my side at that time, and missed out on one of the most glorious scenes offered to us by Mother Nature – rhododendrons in full bloom in the spring.
Soil for Your Rhododendrons
A little bit more of sand and peat and you can grow rhododendrons in this soil.
Thanks to the wide variety of rhododendrons, more than available throughout the world, you are going to be spoiled for choice in the selection of the plants. They can be shrubs, growing up to 39 inches and they can be large trees growing up to 98 feet.
You can choose leaf sizes, ranging from 2 cm to 100 centimeters! You can find these rhododendrons growing initial, Russia, Europe, Queensland, Solomon Islands, Himalayas, Malaysia, China, North America, Burma, Taiwan, Japan, Korea and New Guinea. That means their preferred latitudes are 80°N – 20° South.
Some of the varieties have been considered to be “pests” in the United Kingdom and in Ireland because the roots are invasive and are capable of taking over your garden.
Shade and Shelter for Your Rhododendrons
Have you noticed a garden blooming profusely, and on the other hand, seeing a garden, where the plants are struggling to survive, in the same locality. The climate is the same, the soil is the same; so how come XYZ’s garden has a number of choice blooms, blooming throughout the year, while ABC’s garden even though well fertilized and kept well moisturized , does not seem to provide the same sort of colorful results?
The answer is very elementary, my dear Watson. XYZ has used plenty of shade and shelter to protect his plants from harsh cold winds, drafts, and even the weather in the summer.
Well, one cannot blame people for disregarding this particular aspect of gardening. We build sturdy houses to shelter ourselves from the elements. Then we begin to think of what we wish to plant in our gardens. Down the ages we have been planting roses, bulbs, and herbaceous plants, as the first choice. Trees and shrubs come second.
Given the choice of growing plants, I, like the majority of my fellow gardeners, am going to choose seasonal flowers first and trees and shrubs as a second choice. Especially when the space is limited.
The vast majority of the trees, shrubs and large plants, which you find in nature, growing wild are going to be growing isolated in just rare cases. Otherwise, you are going to find them growing in combination with a number of other species of different sizes and kinds.
This is how they are going to derive some measure of shade, shelter and other less obvious assistance like support, especially in the case of some epiphytic species like orchids, and rhododendrons.
So How Do You Get the Best Shade for Your Rhododendrons?
Just a little bit more of shade, especially in the desert…
In their natural state, rhododendrons grow in conjunction with trees. In fact botanists have seen that some rhododendrons have particular affinities with trees of other genus. That is why in Asia and in North America, you are going to find lots of rhododendrons growing in company with the oak – blackjack, sandjack, cinnamon and upland willow.
So if you are picking up your rhododendrons from the nearest oak woods, you may want to ask yourself whether you have an oak shelter in your garden? The answer is possibly, an oak takes so long to grow, so you would want to know more about faster growing plants for shade.
Of the most rapidly growing oak variety available throughout the world, you are going to find the Turkey Oak [ Quercus cerris] suits your purpose the best.
These trees are best suited to provide that necessary overhead shade and the flickering of light which heralds the success of fruitful growing of rhododendrons.
Here is my suggestion – plant the common horse chestnut [Aesculus hippocastanum] 14 feet apart in a regular groups. Remember that they are going to attain a really large size. At least one of these horse chestnuts are going to be in your garden for a long long time.
This book has introduced you to rhododendrons, which are going to add class and distinction to your garden.
If you are fortunate enough to have planned shows and exhibitions in your city, where people are exhibiting rhododendrons, you are possibly going to see some color combinations and varieties which may not be in the nursery catalogs or even online.
The best thing about Rhododendrons that except for a few exceptions, they do not mind being moved about… Much. From a gardening point of view, this is a blessing for gardeners, because of one point – when they are young, you are going to be planting them close together because that is the form of cultivation that they demand. When they are able to survive on their own, and have grown to a sturdy 4 feet, you can plant them in their permanent positions.
When you are doing large rhododendrons, especially the Chinese and the Indian varieties, choose the plants which have lots of greenery shielding the vulnerable bark of the main stem.
If you intend to try hybridizing experiments on this plant, make sure that you have chosen “original” species on both sides. Grafts, I would not suggest. By doing this, you are going to prevent yourself from feeling disappointed after years of care. We do not want to take a leap in the dark, assuming that we are going to get a final result of our dreams, when we are not very sure what characteristics may turn up in the final product.
So here are some of the “species” which you may want to use for experimentation – R.arboreum,R.barbatum,R. campylocarpum, R.campanulatum, R.Fortunei, R. Griffithianum [one of the most attractive of Rhododendrons and a favorite choice for getting hybrids],R. niveum, R.Thomsonii, R.calophytum, R. augustonii, R. decorum, R. yunnanense, R. racemosum and R. Davidsonianum , R. ledifolium and so on.
Hybrids of R. catawbiense are really tough hardy catawampuses. So glory in your garden full of rhododendrons,
Live Long and Prosper!