Rhododendron bargains are coming, here is shopping advice.
Perennially popular in the Northwest and in northern California, rhododendrons should be special bargains this spring since wholesale supplies are unexpectedly high. To get a truly good deal in the long run, you should buy the right plant for your garden.
Do your homework before you shop. Nursery personnel we interviewed said they love to see customers with garden maps or plans in hand. The plan should show existing plants and structures and indicate compass direction, with marginal notes about slope and exposure and roughed-in dimensions. The map will help the rhododendron experts at your nursery avoid recommending a shade lover for a sunny spot or a plant that grows too tall, wide, or fast for its intended space.
If you'd like to match a favorite rhododendron that you can't identify, bring a flower truss and some leaves to the nursery, so your nurseryman can help you find the plant or a close substitute. A few kinds of rhododendrons are difficult to propagate and consequently more expensive; you can usually get a near-match for less money that will do as well.
Give plants a physical exam. In any group of rhododendrons of the same variety, choose from among those with the greenest leaves and best shape.
If you shop during cold weather, expect healthy rhododendron leaves to be droopy (as shown at top right) or rolled. Most kinds will perk up when weather warms; a few droop naturally.
Evenly yellow leaves may signal a generally sick plant or nitrogen deficiency.
Leaves that are green where they're shaded and yellow where they're exposed to sun may be sunburned; yellow leaves with green veins (pictured at right center) may result from a trace element deficiency.
When you've settled on a plant, check around the crown, as shown at right, for weevil damage. Make sure a can-grown plant hasn't become rootbound. Look for healthy roots (they resemble white hairs) on the outside of the root mass.
Plant with care. When you get the rhododendron home, dig a planting hole at least twice as large as the rootball and fill it with water. If the water percolates out within a few hours, amend the soil with a third composted organic matter. If it doesn't, refill the hole with soil and plant in a mound on top of it. In slow-draining soil, the bottom of the roots shouldn't be more than 2 inches below original grade. Build a well around the plant to direct water to the root zone when you irrigate.
Mix a complete fertilizer into the soil at planting time. From then on, add plant food as needed.
Photo: Field-grown rhododendron (left) has more spreading root mass and foliage than container-grown plant of same variety and age
Photo: Drooping leaves in cold weather are nothing to worry about; they'll perk up when temperatures rise again
Photo: Yellow leaves with dark veins are a sign of a chemical deficiency in the soil. Healthy leaves are evenly dark green
Photo: Stripped bark at base of trunk (caused by weevils) may occur even on plants whose leaves resist weevils. Always check for it
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|Date:||Mar 1, 1984|
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