In our busy times, the first requirement for a garden is easy care. Therefore, many gardeners are convinced that only resistant plants of the local flora should be present on the site. But there is one exotic, against the charm of which no one can resist. In almost every garden, sooner or later, a Rhododendron appears.
How many books we read in childhood about adventures, where impassable thickets of rhododendrons periodically stood in the way of travelers, through which they had to bravely wade! And this “monster” is in our hands — young, trembling and tender.
What are the rhododendrons
We plant according to the instructions, without breathing: 18.5% of leafy earth, juniper fall, the tail of a dried lizard caught on a full moon… Why all this dancing with tambourines? Yes, because someone has it on the site for the winter, and someone does not, and it is unclear why. Already, the three—layer cover was sewn on the lining – it does not grow. Not otherwise, the breed of lizard matters… Or maybe a “breed” of rhododendron? Let’s figure it out.
So, what we have. Rhododendrons are evergreen, deciduous and semi-deciduous. For deciduous plants in everyday life, the name “azalea” is firmly fixed (not to be confused with houseplants!) These characters bloom in the spring, so much so that it takes your breath away! That’s why we love them. But the trouble is that all of them, as a rule, turn out to be slightly more southern than the residents of the middle strip would like. Hence the main problem of their cultivation — successful wintering.
They bloom in May-June, some — on almost bare branches, others — during the opening of foliage. Unlike evergreen rhododendrons, which tend to a pink-purple cold range, deciduous ones mostly delight the eye with flowers of warm shades — yellow or orange.
There is a white color here and there, but for all its elegance, it turns out to be the least in demand — we already have a lot of white-flowering plants in the spring, with which there is much less hassle!
The evergreen rhododendron needs no introduction. Everything is fine in it: “and the face, and the clothes, and the thoughts.” The flowering process is an indescribable sight. Huge caps cover the plants with a gentle “snowdrift”. But as soon as he drops the last petal … No, we do not fall into frustration at all, because immediately the beauty and grace of the bush itself becomes visible, in the whole appearance of which the inner nobility is clearly visible.
Neat leathery leaves (especially in combination with conifers) give the garden a touch of exoticism. And in winter… We will talk about winter separately.
Winter-hardy varieties of rhododendrons
In the 90s, varieties of evergreen rhododendron were bred, completely winter-hardy in the conditions of the middle band. Finnish scientists did their best.
Two of the most famous varieties are ‘Helsinki University’ and ‘The Hague’, standing up cheerfully when the thermometer creeps close to -40 °C.
With little shelter, rhododendrons bred on the basis of Rhododendron catawbiense winter well: pink-lilac ‘Katevbinsky Grandiflorum’, ‘Burso’, ‘Roseum Elegance’, red-crimson ‘Nova Zembla’, dark purple ‘Azurro’, white ‘Albumus’.
About the same way the luxurious “royal” series, the creation of Polish breeders, winters, where varieties are named after historically significant rulers, for example, “Queen Jadwiga”.
Every year there are several varieties that can tolerate cold winters. With deciduous rhododendrons, the picture is even more beautiful. There are many wintering in the middle zone. The “lights” series (“Golden Lights”, “Mandarin Lights”) behaves perfectly.
And also the most common of the species is Rhododendron luteum, which is also very fragrant.
From the semi—deciduous – rhododendron ‘Elite’ (‘P.J.M. Elite’), blooming with a pink-lilac cloud, with leaves emitting a resinous smell.
How to protect rhododendrons in winter
Needless to say, the vast majority of rhododendrons need a warmer climate, where the minimum winter temperature does not exceed at least -20 ° C. If you start looking for information on the topic “winter-hardy rhododendrons”, most often you come across a list: Rhododendron camtschaticum, Rhododendron ledebourii, Rhododendron dauricum, Rhododendron schlippenbachii, Rhododendron smirnówii… These are species of rhododendrons, which are extremely rare to find on sale. And what we see on the shelves are already varieties and hybrids bred by breeders. Moreover, the selection is carried out both by the variety and quality of flowering, and by the winter hardiness of plants.
Significantly increase winter hardiness, no matter how tedious it sounds, the right agricultural equipment will help. About the fact that rhododendron needs a light acidic soil, probably everyone has heard. But sharing lemon tea with him a couple of times over the summer is not enough. Buy a bag of sour peat, mix it with sand, shake needles from pine trees, fill the pit with this when planting — he will be happy.
A special fertilizer with mycorrhiza has also proved itself well (it is a symbiont mushroom, like an oilcan in pine trees, helping weak rhododendron roots to work more efficiently).
And one more thing: you can feed fertilizer with nitrogen only in spring and once after flowering, when there is an active growth of shoots. Further, closer to autumn, flower buds should be laid at the ends of the shoots. But if you feed nitrogen from the heart at this moment, then ordinary leaf buds will be laid instead of flower buds. Rhododendron will overwinter, but it will bloom weakly. Therefore, in late summer and autumn — only potassium-phosphorus.
So what is it all the same in winter? If you choose the right varieties, then you will have to tinker with the shelter only for the first two years. Further — at will. Either, after all, we cover up in case of an extremely harsh winter, or we accept the fact that once in seven to ten years they will not please us with a lush bloom.
And now the crown focus of winter-hardy evergreen rhododendrons! In order to survive frosts and the associated lack of moisture (roots from frozen soil do not supply water), they have evolutionarily learned to twist leaves into thin tubes, which significantly reduces evaporation. So they stand all winter, frozen and shriveled, and in the spring they unfold the leaves as if nothing had happened.
And, by the way, if you do not know what kind of rhododendron you have growing, you can use this feature to determine whether it is hardy or not: if the leaves are rolled up in the autumn, everything is fine, if you are not in a hurry to do it, we cover it in several layers.
And yet: all rhododendrons have one common weak point — the safety of flower buds in winter. They are especially brittle in deciduous plants. Therefore, all manipulations with shelter and throwing snow are carried out very carefully.
How to choose a place for planting rhododendron
The next question is where to plant. It would seem to be in the warmest place, in the sun! But no. A sunny place is suitable only for deciduous. And evergreens in our conditions are more comfortable in partial shade, where the atmosphere is slightly more humid. The “mild” climate is why it is mild, without sudden temperature jumps and other parameters. And, of course, no withering wind: neither hot in summer, nor cold in winter. Therefore, we close the perimeter and go ahead!
The ideal place is under the translucent canopy of tall trees, where rhododendron bushes form a luxurious undergrowth. This is how a rhododendron garden often looks like. Yes, yes, not one expensive specimen in a flower bed, not two experimental varieties at the fence, but a garden – with paths winding between tall trees surrounded by a dense mass of solid bushes.
Groups are selected not only by color, but also by the strength of growth, and by the nature of foliage, and in accordance with the timing of flowering (so you can stretch the decorative period to two or more months).
Needless to say, people from all over the world come to rhododendron parks (which abound in traditional places of their growth and breeding) during flowering to admire the magnificent spectacle.
Is your dacha located in a pine forest, or just on a plot where there are large trees under which you are trying in vain to plant roses or with stubbornness worthy of a better use, patch up a bald lawn every spring? Come on, there’s a much better option!