rhododendron size control

arnold4321March 28, 2010

I just bought a couple rhododendron plants for the north side of my house.

One is marked as rhododendron catawbiense.

The other is marked as rhododendron x hybrid.

They're both just short of 2' tall and the tags say they can grown to 5-6'. It may have been a mistake to plant these in a bed in front of my front porch. When they are full grown, they may be too large in relation to the porch. The porch is a slab, only one foot off the ground. I don't think I want a 4' wall of bushes between the porch and the street.

I figure it will be quite a while before it's a problem, but for future reference I'm wondering if it will be possible to keep these trimmed so that they're around 4' tall. Is it just a matter of keeping the trunk trimmed so that the foliage can grow around the trunk and still give a full appearance?

Thanks.

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mainegrower(Z5b ME)

Who knows what the ultimate height of an unknown hybrid would be and catawbiense will easily grow to double the 5-6 feet quoted. It would certainly be possible to keep them at 4' by drastic pruning but they would look quite odd - the proverbial green meatball - and have few of the attributes people grow rhodendrons for. A naturally lower growing shrub would be a better choice.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2010 at 11:56AM
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carolinamary

Hi Arnold,

We've been forced to trim some of our rhododendrons in a fashion similar to the way you are considering, simply because we didn't water all our rhododendrons enough during a sustained drought; some entire limbs died on our rhodies. To put it mildly, the result is very, very undesirable looking, and nothing we'd have planned to do on purpose. You'd be most unhappy with the looks at your front door for most rhododendrons if you don't let them grow naturally. They transplant easily, though, so it would be a good idea to go ahead now and start thinking about where you might move them to. Assume that they both are going to be fairly large; this is the more common rhododendron eventual size.

I don't know a whole lot about really low-growing rhodies, but to the extent that I can read up on them, those small-growers that I thought might work out for your site need more sun than what you'll have on the north side of your house.

An azalea that might do just what you want and is commonly available is Wakaebisu. That is, assuming it will bloom well in so little sun. I think it probably will; one of ours that blooms fairly well is on the north side of our house. It just grows toward the sun to get what it needs. If you plant this one, it will not grow straight up so much as up and also away from the shade of the porch roof. Wakaebisu is a beautiful small evergreen azalea that is gorgeous with its large salmon-pink blooms. It is easy, easy to grow, as long as it is sited with good drainage. Like all shallow-rooted azaleas and rhododendrons, it also needs a good bit of water during a drought, but that's its only demand. You can find this variety at most garden centers. You probably won't need to do much trimming on it, but if needed, you can do that and it still will look good.

See Wakaebisu here: http://www.pbase.com/image/17108161

I have to put in a good word for the hiemalis camellia Shishigashira (sometimes spelled Shishi Gashira). That's a gorgeous plant that's terribly easy to grow, as long as it's sited in a well-drained spot and watered during a drought. Ours never has had any disease of any kind that we've noticed. It will bloom heavily with nothing to feed it beyond organics and do that in anywhere from full sun to full shade. It's beautiful when in bloom and when out of bloom too. Its blooms look like tiny little rosy-colored roses, each one a perfect little flower, and the plant covers itself with those little perfect flowers. If you like tiny flower arrangements, its blooms take well to cutting and look charming that way. Its blooms fall off well when finished, and the plant never looks bad. It starts blooming in September, but the heaviest flowering is in October and November. Amazingly, we even got a flower here in January after that bitter cold spell and then another one in February after even more bitter cold. It's a very hardy plant, and that includes bud hardiness. Lots of garden centers carry Shishigashira, though not all do. If you see it in a big box store and the plant isn't a lot shorter than their other camellias and isn't growing horizontally instead of upward, then don't believe the tag; it's not Shishigashira if it's not terribly short and wide.

Camellia Shishigashira grows really, really slowly, so it's worth spending the extra money to get older, larger plants now, since it's right near your front door that you need the landscaping. If I were doing it, I'd plant some older, larger ones next to the porch at about 24" apart on center and figure on moving some to thin them out and provide a little more horizontal room in 15 or 20 years. (You could always move some of them to line your sidewalk; they work well used that way.)

We have a camellia Shishigashira that is about 20 years old. It's no taller than about 20" now, but is maybe 3 1/2 to 4 feet wide. It has been growing in full shade and might have been bigger if not for that, but it's still very healthy. This plant is *easy* to grow; ours has been almost totally neglected except for some watering during our droughts. I want to buy a bunch more of these plants, and also want to spread the word on what a great variety they are! You can probably find this one locally somewhere, but, if not, then it's worth the trouble to order it for delivery from an online nursery.

Good luck on finding something that will work well for you, Arnold.

Best wishes,
Mary

Here is a link that might be useful: Camellia Shishigashira blooming

    Bookmark   March 29, 2010 at 1:16AM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

There are many low growing varieties you can use in the spot near the porch. Perhaps you can put these two tall plants somewhere else and get a low plant for near the porch. Some suggestions are:

Besse Howells, red
Dora Amateis, white
Ken Janeck, pink
Minnetonka, purple
Mist Maiden, pink

There are lots of others. The size quoted on labels is the size at 10 years. Some keep growing. These are all typically 3 ft. in 10 years.

Here is a link that might be useful: How to care for rhododendrons

    Bookmark   March 29, 2010 at 10:18AM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

PS The shade from being on the north side of the house may be a problem. Here are some low varieties that tolerate shade well:

Elviira, red
Ramapo, violet-pink
Molly Fordham, white

    Bookmark   March 29, 2010 at 10:30AM
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kimcoco

I had Cunninghams White on the north side of my house for perhaps three years. Saw one solitary bloom for one day. I don't think it was happy without any direct sunlight. This year, it was just moved to a sunnier area.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2010 at 11:23PM
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