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For centuries these plants have been popular with gardeners around the world. Many of the species we are familiar with were actually originated in Asia, with the largest concentration of the commonly found varieties being Chinese and Japanese in origin. They also come in two leaf types: deciduous (loses its leaves in winter) and evergreen (pretty self explanatory, no?). Additionally, there are standard varieties, which can grow quite large, and dwarf varieties which never grow more than about 2 feet tall. The dwarf variety of azalea (commonly known as satsuki) is also popular for making into bonsai. Now, while stationed at American military bases actually located in the US, my parents were primarily shuttled about to various posts in the American Deep South, and so both rhododendrons and azaleas were a prominent plant seen in my child and early adulthood. The streets of most Southern towns abound with these, and most gardens have at least one, though in the US, it is the azalea (which is a species of rhododendron) which is the most common. Here in Europe, I often see at least a handful of rhododendrons in gardens on any given residential street, which is not surprising really.
Both rhododendrons and azaleas produce lovely masses of flowers and the shrubs are easy to care for as long as they are planted correctly. The most common mistake is to simply plonk one in the ground (or a pot, as dwarf varieties do well in containers) with a bit of ericaceous compost (they are acid loving plants) and leave it at that. After awhile, this is broken down, and the acidity level reduces and the plants end up rowing in conditions that are too alkaline to be optimum. A good rule of thumb is to regularly use plant food for acid loving plants, and you will be rewarded with a healthy shrub that produces a fine show in spring and summer. How showy depnds on the variety you choose, with some bearing double sized blooms and others a more delicate blossom. Colours range from white, to oranges, reds, purples, pinks, and even an occasional yellow.
If like us, you are actually in the midst of planting up a garden, this may be one of the plants you are considering. The larger varieties make a fine hedge border, or alone as a specimen plant. I would however, recommend that you think about what it is you want to achieve with your garden, and build up your plants around that. For example, a friend of ours recently went to visit mutual friends in Osaka prefecture. These friends have an absolutely beautiful garden and they shared pictures of it with us all. My daughter is a gardening fanatic and upon laying eyes upon this magnificent modern suburban Japanese garden, she became inspired. We were actually just about to dig over the "grass" out front and put in some beds as well as a driveway, but before we could cement up any firm plans for what we wanted beyond a small cherry tree and a rhododendron or two, my daughter came up to us with a rather detailed drawing for her take on a Japanese garden. She had even made a list of plants! This has actually made things a lot easier, as now we have been able to select varieties of the desired plants that fit our garden scheme. Azaleas and rhododendrons are from that region, so as you can guess, they figure in our garden. As we have only have a normal sized middle class suburban front garden, things have to be scaled just so to fit everything in. So that rhododendron that would have been a standard sized shrub is now consigned to memory, and has become several dwarf sized rhododendrons and azaleas and is being planted about with complementary plants to achieve the desired look: bamboo, Sakura, momiji, etc. Now, just up our street, a neighbour has gone for an English cottage garden look, so she has a standard size in a corner, several roses, the usual cottage garden flowers, and a bird bath. Same shrub, different size, different overall feel to the garden.
It should be noted that these shrubs should never be planted where there is a danger of them being grazed upon by livestock, as they find this toxic. Also, carefully read tags before choosing to make certain that you have not unwittingly selected a variety known to be invasive (Rhododendron ponticum) which is best avoided as it can become quite a nuisance that is nearly impossible to get rid of, with roots tunnelling far in order to establish new shrubs.Additionally, if you or anyone near you keeps bees, Rhododendron ponticum and Rhododendron luteum are a definite no no as the nectar from these flowers, when made into honey,has been known to have hallucenogenic effects as well as being toxic enough to cause severe illness in humans who ingest said honey, even in small amounts. One final consideration is that these plants release a chemical into the soil immediately surrounding their roots. This chemical is basically a compound that prevents other plants from rooting down in its growing space, in order to optimise its own nutrient intake. Not a problem, but don't think you can plant a few nice little pansies in the root space!
While easy to grow, they do have things that have to be kept an eye on. A large variety of caterpillars find rhododendrons and azaelas quite tasty, and a large shrub can be quickly denuded. Likewise, they are prone to a variety of different fungal infections that can lead to rot, so a sharp eye to note changes in the stems and leaves is a must, thought ehse are easily treated. This is true for any plant though, you simply cannot plant and forget and think your garden is simply going to be magnificent; even the most easy to grow plant needs its health looked after lest it fall ill as no plant is imprevious to all pests and diseases. Rhododendrons and azaelas which regularly have their acidity levels maintained are very hardy however, so if looking for something fairly easy to care for, a specimen or two of these would not be amiss.
If anyone were to ask me which was my favourite flower I would be hard put to give them an answer as there are so many that could fill that position. However, way up high on the list I would have to put Azaleas and Rhododendrons. In fact, although there is a massive variety, Azaleas and Rhododendrons are classified as being the same species. They vary in the fact that they can either be evergreen or deciduous; they can grow into huge trees or grow to only a few inches high. Some have leaves that are four to five inches in length whilst others are about a quarter of an inch. The flowers also come in a huge variety of colours ranging through white, pink, red, yellow, orange, lilac and purple. I think the only colour that isn?t represented is blue ? although I could be wrong about that. I learned, the hard way, some years ago that they wouldn?t survive in my garden although, at that time, I didn?t know why. They are all intolerant of lime in the soil, which is why I decided to try growing them in pots and this has, so far, been very successful, although the pots have now become huge tubs. The thing to remember is that you have to make sure they are planted in ericaceous compost. You also have to be aware that some of them become very big, so you must be prepared to re-pot as they grow. You can buy them, well established, from garden centres where the price will usually depend on the variety and the size. I have seen them ranging from around £8 to £40 and possibly more. I won?t say that I have spent a lot on mine; in fact, I think most of them came from Woolworth?s and were probably reduced to about £1.50. However, with a bit of patience and TLC they have grown from about twelve inches to, in some cases, four to five feet. It has taken a few years of course, but is well worth the wait as when they flower it is a glorious sight. There is also the added advantage that you can move them about. Generally, the la
rger evergreen varieties are the ones known as Rhododendrons. They have large exotic flowers, sometimes very fragrant, and they are perfectly at home growing in partial shade under trees. There is nothing more impressive than seeing the larger varieties growing in a forest. The larger Azaleas are usually deciduous, the leaves are smaller and although the flowers are still beautiful, they are not so big. They also prefer to be in the sun. The smaller Azaleas - which are usually evergreen ? make lovely plants for the patio as when they flower they are just a mass of colour and the blooms nearly smother the small leaves. Most varieties flower in spring ? from April onwards. One of mine will be in full bloom in about a week; the others will be a bit later. Occasionally, you are lucky enough to have them bloom twice during the year. It is recommended that they should be ?dead-headed? after flowering in order to save strength for the following year. I hope this will be of some help, when you see the show these plants produce it is well worth the effort ? and the wait. Thank-you for reading.
I think that most people have come across Rhododendron and Azaleas either in people?s gardens or in the public parks. The white and pink varieties seem to be the most popular. Rhododendrons come in over 500 varieties and these include the Azaleas too, seeing there isn?t much difference to the two, they both grow in the same type of soil and come in either shrub, dwarf, compact or tree form. I love the different colours and fragrances these plants produce, the only problem I have is that there?s not enough room in my garden for more than two of these plants. The name Rododendron comes from the greek names rhodon which means rose and dendron which means tree and you can get plants which range from smalll shrubs to large 60 foot trees. I?d love to be able to say I have one of these huge varieties in my garden but I?m afraid the only place I?ve seen these is in the gardens of public parks, or stately homes. They are very impressionable though and I can imagine they need lots of care and attention to get them to their full height. Still my little Elizabeth which grows only 3ft and spreads about 5-6ft and my Humming Bird which grows 4ft and spreads about 4-6ft wide are large enough for my garden. You can buy lots of different varieties from the garden centre?s and if your looking for a certain plant you can see if the garden centre can order it for you if they haven?t got it in stock. I don?t think you?ll be able to pick one of these up from a bootsale unless your in luck as I have been looking for three years now to find them at bootsales and so far have been unlucky. I think you?ll probably pay anything from £4.99 upwards for a plant depending on variety, size and colour. Rhododendrons come from China, Asia, The Himalayas, Tibet, India and Burma and the colours of the flowers range from white, pink, purple, yellow, red, scarlet and orange. Most of them are evergr
een. You can grow these plants from seeds or by taking cuttings, I think taking cuttings is probably the best way. You can take your cutting in june to august from the young growth on your plant. Put them in pots of equal parts of peat and sand when they are rooted you can transfer them into bigger pots and grow under glass untill the april of the next year when they will be ready to plant out. It might take you a few tries to get your cutting to take but with perseverance you?ll do it. To prune a rhododendron or azalea is quite simple, it doesn?t need to be pruned regular and all you have to do is to snip off the older stems, or the dying flowers which will make them bushier. They are also quite easy to move if you think they need more room just dig up around the base of the plant to get the roots up and plant in a well watered hole wherever you choose to move it too. They can be prone to pests and disease so it?s good to check them every now and again for white flies, brown leafage or yellow leafage. You can always get spray treatments for them at the garden centre you bought them from if you need to treat your plants. The garden centre can also be helpful with advise if your not sure what sort of spray you need. Well, that?s about all really, have fun in your garden.
This plant is nice while it is in flower although the flowering period is short. It is evergreen but quite slow growing the invasive Rhododendron Ponticum is a pest and spreads via seed and suckers the cultivated hybrid types are a lot slower to grow. There are some nice compact dwarf types which really are dwarf and only make 2 to 3 foot of growth. I would give this plant a miss as there are better evergreen flowering shrubs than this around. The Rhododendrons like to be in an acid soil so unless you are on acid soil it is a waste of time. In my opinion as a grower of shrubs Rhodo's are over rated. The best way to display a smaller growing type is to plant it into an ericacious compost in a planting tub to displaty on the patio or somewhere. You can always underplant around the edge of the tub with pansies or other bedding. Try a mix of a central Rhodo in the tub and and low growing winter flowering golden foliage heathers around it, as the heathers are also acid lovers.
In a garden, a Rhododendron is all well and good, if you like that sort of thing. This is an appeal for responsible planting, because these plants are very good at escaping into the wild. If you live near an area of woodland, especially if your garden backs onto an area of trees, please consider not planting this plant. Rhododendrons are not native to this country and when they escape, the wreak havoc on the natural world. They are very good undergrowth plants, and will grow beneath the trees, forming a thick canopy that prevents any wildflowers or saplings from growing. Once a rhododendron gets into a wood, it is very hard to get rid of and the habitat will be destroyed by it if it goes unchecked. The woodlands around Farnborough have suffered terribly from the invasion of the Rhododendron. They are becoming a problem in woods in the Lake district, and in many smaller woods around the country. They may look pretty, the may smell nice but they ruin deciduous woodlands and render then uninhabitable for other wildlife. Please bear this in mind when planting.
There are very few plants or shrubs that I truly enjoy, but rhododendrons and azaleas are probably two of my favorites. There is nothing more enjoyable than strolling through the woods, and there, just beyond the next tree spying a flash of colour. Look closer, and suddenly the Rhododendron springs into view, a riot of wonderful colour. Red, white pink cream, all manner of dazzling hues. This is probably one of the best reasons I can think of for going for a walk in my local woods. Give it a try next spring, you won't regret it