Saturday, May 26, 2012

Nothing to Lose, a Rhododendron Story

I love rhododendrons with their gorgeous showy flowers, cool looking evergreen foliage. They fit right in my woodland garden appreciating the morning sun and afternoon shade. They let you know when it is too cold for their liking by curling up their leaves. Some have a soft and fuzzy tomentum on the undersides of the leaves, like my yakushimanum. 

Rhodos have their share of problems like other plants and recently I had to figure out why my yaku 'Ken Janek' was dying. Unfortunately I did not take any before pictures ( I was too distraught) to help with the description. Basically the rhodo was dying stem by stem. Quite the shame as they all had flower buds growing on them. What to do? 

Removed stems

I dug 'Ken' up. Not the easiest job in the world. This rhodo is not big but digging it up, leaves and flower buds intact, plus root ball, well, I am sure some of you have been in my place. It seemed OK. I could not find disease, or pests or anything obvious. So I tried opening up some of the root ball and then replanted it.

A couple of weeks and 'Ken' did not show any change. In fact there was no response to my digging it up and cutting it open a bit. No shock, no wilt, nothing. It just kept dying.

That's not right I thought. So I dug 'Ken' up again - much easier this time. This time my eyes actually saw what was wrong and I think it has something to do with the way the growers grow the plants. The root ball was actually a very dense mat of peat and whatever other growing medium they use. I realized that there were no visible live roots outside that mass. The roots were not able to get through and into my lovely acid soil. So with nothing left to lose I grabbed our ancient machete and started hacking off pieces of the root ball around the top and sides. When I found root I cut a piece off to see if it was  live root or not. If not, I kept hacking. 

In the end I lost about half of the original plant. After I replanted 'Ken' he wilted for a for a few days and I took that as a good sign. A week later and the rhodo is showing some colour on one of the buds which means it may actually bloom.

Today, still a bit wilted


Just for fun visit Marjorie Hancock's web site where she tells you the "Ten Ways To Kill a Rhododendron".


  1. I feel for you. It's one thing when a plant is sick and the cause is obvious but when you are in the dark about what to do it can be very difficult. I'm glad to see that your rhododendron is on its way to recovery.

    1. Thanks Bom. It can certainly be difficult to figure out the cause. The first time around I looked for the cause but did not see. I think it sometimes comes down to experience.

  2. Hi Patty, I always thought rhododendrons were somewhat unsuited to our dry, hot summers and so I have never made much of an attempt to grow them. Then last week, I was on a local garden tour, and they seemed to be everywhere! I was impressed with how well they seemed to be flourishing. Now I am reconsidering them for my own garden.
    I admire your bravery in digging your Rhododendron up. I guess drastic measures were called for. It certainly made a nice recovery and looks ready to bloom.

    1. Thanks Jennifer. Most rhodos at the nurseries are fine for our zone. I have a lot of evergreen trees in my yard and that helps with acidity which I think is the largest obstacle. Soil acidifiers, mulches will help. I use the tree debris that comes out of the eavestroughs as additional mulch.