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Spring beauties; Clive Edwards offers advice on caring for rhododendrons and azaleas.

RHODODENDRONS are an enormous genus with thousands of cultivars, which also includes azaleas. They form either shrubs or trees varying in height from just a few centimetres up to 10m (30ft) and more.

Many are too large for a small garden, both in height and spread but this still leaves plenty to choose from.

The main attraction are the flowers but many also have very attractive foliage.

In the first part of the 20th century many species were brought to these shores from China and the Himalayas and plantsmen put a great deal of energy into making plant crosses to create the hybrids that we know today.

Both rhododendrons and azaleas require a lime free soil with good organic matter content. Most thrive in dappled shade but do not enjoy cold, windy situations.

These plants are surface rooting and therefore should only be planted in a shallow hole so that the rootball is just covered with soil.

Many of the smaller varieties can be grown in containers provided that ericaceous compost is used. Indeed this is the only option if your garden has alkaline soil.

Generally the soils in this area are suitable for rhododendrons and azaleas.

The only pruning that is needed with these plants is to deadhead the flowers. Another advantage is that due to their shallow roots, they can be moved with relative ease no matter how well established they are.

However this should only be done between October and March and not while the plants are in full growth.

Whilst azaleas and rhododendrons are good no-nonsense, easy to grow plants requiring very little attention they will benefit from an application of fertiliser for acid loving plants in the spring and a good mulch with well rotted compost or leaf mould.

To propagate rhododendrons take a trimmed heel cutting in late summer.

Choose newer shoots, remove the bottom leaves and cut the rest in half to reduce transpiration, then dip in rooting powder.

Electric propagators will give the best results, but keep a close watch to see they never dry out. If cuttings get too wet there is a risk of fungal diseases.

Cuttings in an outdoor frame will take longer and may need shading at the start. The following year you should have little rooted plants. But do not expect 100% success, evergreen shrubs are not the easiest of plants to propagate.

Ask Clive Q I have never had much success with winter aconites. Can you give me some tips please? A You need to buy fresh corms and not dried up old stock. The best advice we can give is to try buying growing plants in March or April.

There are two main species, Eranthis cilica and the better known Eranthis hyemalis. Both have golden, yellow flowers in February to March and hyemalis will seed freely.

Q I have some daffodil bulbs growing in a border, I want to move them to a new position. When can I lift them? A Daffodil bulbs can be lifted once the foliage withers and turns brown. Don''t lift the bulbs until at least six weeks after flowering, otherwise they are not likely to flower very well next year.

Did you know? Daffodils are to spring what roses, irises and lilies are to summer What sunflowers and chrysanthemums are to autumn and hellebores and aconites are to winter
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Mar 16, 2013
Words:559
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