Rhodies and their dirt =)

West Plains, MO(Zone 6b)

Hello! I would really like to plant our wooded backyard with several rhododendrons and azaleas, but I am concerned about our soil. We are in the Ozark Mountains, and our soil is clay mixed very generously with rocks, rocks, and more rocks. To plant a small tree or bush we have to get out the pickax and the steel leverage bar to dig the hole. Would digging the hole extra-large and amending with peat be enough, or is there something else we could do to grow rhodies successfully?

Thumbnail by ericabelle
Decatur, GA(Zone 7b)

I was told by an experienced road grader that heavy rhododendron growth is often a sign that the ground is very rocky. I don't think they need the rocks but they compete particularly well in rocky habitats. I think you have a good idea about what you are doing. In westery NC where our cabin is, there are many rhodies and their shallow roots are growing mostly in compost. I know they need very good drainage and, here in the Atlanta area they need a fair amount of shade also. Certainly protection from PM sun. Looks like you have a beautiful spot to fwork with.

West Plains, MO(Zone 6b)

That is super, back40bean! I can just picture our backyard with tons of rhodies all over!
Now, I am wondering about moisture needs - it is really dry on the back half of our property, but we could, in time, run a few sprinklers back there. How much dryness can they take?

Decatur, GA(Zone 7b)

I find that in general, rhodies in nurseries receive a lot of nourishment and water and when I plant them I expect to have to water a lot, at least in the first growing season. Once established, they do quite well with 'normal' rainfall, though its been so dry here the past few years that I have had to supplement. And remember to mulch, mulch, mulch!

I'd also like to hear from others because I'm really not an expert, just a rhododendron lover. I am also mostly retired and I find that having time to pay almost daily attention to the landscape is very beneficial.

Christiana, TN(Zone 6b)

I think backfortybean is right. In the first and second year you need to watch for wilting and be prepared to provide supplemental water. As far as how to plant them...I always plant mine on top of the ground (which has been cleared of grass using roundup) in a mixture of peat moss, and a little loam and pine fines (still improving my mix). But the key is: EXCELLENT drainage and massacre the root ball of a new plant forcing it to grow in the surrounding new soil.
For me: rockbottom is planting on top of the existing ground. Water until established and be prepared to add extra water in extreme droughts.
I can only say I have some gorgeous specimens in my garden and they are relatively trouble-free. And I am in middle Tennessee flat plain...hard sun and drought.

edit: oops....must have some shade at least most of the day. Mine can take varying amounts of full sun but not much.

This message was edited Nov 18, 2010 3:31 AM

Decatur, GA(Zone 7b)

I think you are absolutely correct about the root ball, killdawabbit. I generally find that the nurseries pump their rhodies up with so much fertilizer and water that they come out of the pots with lots of tiny rootlets and, indeed, you have to butcher the root ball in order to spread the roots and keep from planting them too deep. Thank you for confirming this for me.

Christiana, TN(Zone 6b)

back40, I read somewhere to do this. And it seems terrifying at first but the results prove it. I have read that if you leave them in that root bound condition the roots won't spread into the new soil. Hacking up the root ball supposedly forces the remaining roots into the new soil. I believe it and I've had great results so far.

West Plains, MO(Zone 6b)

How do you plant yours on top of the soil, killdawabbit? Do you build a small raised bed, or do you have a method of building up a mound of soil?

Christiana, TN(Zone 6b)

I prepare a spot. Depending on the size of the plant and root ball I make a mound of 2 parts peat moss, 1/2 part soil conditioner (pine fines) and 1/2 part good loam.
I don't have any strict dimensions to give you. If I'm in doubt as to whether I'm making the mound large enough I make it bigger. It's just something you have to get a feel for. I've made mounds as low as 6" and as high as 18". It also depends on the ultimate size of the plant.
I'm still experimenting so use that mix at your own risk. I have great results so far. I have a Janet Blair, several yak hybrids and many more that are perfect so far. I've had Janet Blair and others for 3 years now and they are beautiful--perfect green leaves and blooms.

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