rhody from nursery has shallow, fine roots

cindyr98296(7)April 28, 2014

When I brought this rhody home from the nursery, I thought it had to be root-bound. I was very surprised when I lifted it out of the pot.

Right out of the pot, in moist potting soil, this somewhat dry-looking rhody had no root ball, just a 3-4" soft layer of just enough filamentous root to hold some soil.

This rhody doesn't look great, but it doesn't look really sick. There are a few dead leaves, or parts of leaves, and the foliage and buds do look and feel dry, leathery. The buds, which should be close to blooming, feel almost hollow.

I followed the thread for root rot, but I don't know whether this is likely to be root rot. All the example photos look much worse than this one.

Is there any particular set of steps I can go through to diagnose and save this nice rhody? I've never seen a woody plant like this, straight from the nursery, that didn't have a tough twisted bundle of roots filling out the pot all the way to the bottom.

I'm hoping that the plant, which looks pretty good, is making a sacrifice of the buds for this year as it struggles to recover from some insult. Is there a way to support root growth while I nurse it through? Or is it a poor prognosis when there is no strong root system? What should I say to the nursery, if anything?

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You are probably better off with the root system you describe than with the tight mass of pot bound roots so frequently encountered. If you see healthy white root tips, you have no worries about rot. The foliage and buds may just be showing the effects of winter conditions. Make sure the roots are moist when you plant and do not let them dry out excessively this summer. It certainly would not do any harm to ask the nursery about this plant, but it really sounds as if it's pretty typical of over-wintered plants that may have suffered from lack of moisture at some point.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 4:53AM
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Thank you! That's encouraging. I really appreciate good advice.

Putting it in the ground, should I use a mixture with sand? Or any particular balance of nutrients, perhaps a starter soil or a transplanting soil?

Does it sound as if those buds will flower? If they are not going to bloom, shall I pick them off to rest the plant? Is there a single preventive protocol to help a compromised plant resist disease? An immune system support?

    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 12:37PM
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The best "soil" for rhododendrons contains at least 25 to 50% organic matter. In this case, err on the side of lots and lots of organic matter. Shredded conifer bark, especially if it is partially decomposed, is an excellent additive. So are conifer needles. Sand is useful, but probably not necessary. You want a planting area with a diameter of 3 to 4 feet. It doesn't need to be any deeper than a foot. Providing ideal conditions for root growth and watering with just a trickle at the plant's base when necessary is much better than trying to push things with any sort of fertilizer, which can do more harm than good.

If the flower buds feel hollow, you will likely get only partial bloom, if any. The outermost florets can be killed by cold leaving only the inner ones capable of producing flowers. There's no harm in waiting to see what happens, but dead heading after bloom so that none of the plant's energy goes into seed production is important.

There are various fungicidal drenches, but they have limited usefulness and are pretty nasty. Better to keep a close watch for lacebugs and other pests that can damage the leaves and stress the plant. These can be dealt with using low impact pesticides such as insecticidal soap.

BTW, it would be useful to know the name of this variety. If it's one of the "good doers" you should have no problems. More exotic varieties may require more patience, but should be fine in the end.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 5:46AM
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