The Rhododendron That Shouldn’t Thrive

Rhododendron Close Up

Rhododendron Close Up

It’s rhododendron time here in PA. There are two rhododendrons growing in the yard: one came with the house and is large and thriving while the other was planted a few years ago and is struggling to hold on to life.

The strange thing about this is that the plant that’s struggling is growing in a location where it should be thriving. The one that’s thriving is growing where it shouldn’t be able to survive.

In nature, rhododendrons are bushes that grow in the understory of forests. They need to have a moist environment because their roots tend to be shallow and dry out quickly. They also prefer to grow in dappled light where they aren’t exposed to the full energy of the sun.

In theory, that’s the sort of environment that should be best for them when growing in a yard. My struggling rhododendron is near a tree where it gets some sun but is protected from the heat of the day. The thriving bush is planted on the south side of the house where it bakes in the sun until around 4pm. And to make matters worse, this rhododendron is planted in a small opening surrounded by a concrete patio on one side, a black topped driveway on another and a brick walkway on the other two sides. This is one of the hottest and driest spots in the yard, yet it grows! (I know of someone else who has a great rhododendron that’s on the southeast side of the house sandwiched between the house and a concrete slab!)


I don’t know what to say about this strange occurrence.

Maybe part of the answer is in something that I’ve noticed as I see rhododendrons in other’s yards. I rarely see a young bush; the ones that are thriving are old and established. This makes me wonder if the older varieties of rhododendron are hardier plants than the ones available now. Who knows?

What I do know is that I want to spend this year trying to get my struggling rhododendron to thrive. As I said, it’s in a good location – at lease in theory. I want to be more diligent about watering it. I also want to check the pH of the soil – rhododendrons do better in acid soil. Even though I’m not one to nurse along a struggling plant, I’m willing to give this bush some special attention for a year or two and see if it makes a difference.

Maybe it will. If it doesn’t, I’ll send the small bush to the compost bin, knowing that there’s another rhododendron in the yard that’ll blossom every spring. It might be in the “wrong” location and should be dead but it’s apparent that no one’s told the rhododendron!


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