Is there such a thing as rhododendrom wilt?

linlily(z5/6PA)June 15, 2009

I posted this on the Shurbs forum too, but this may be a better place to get a response.

My friend called me today, telling me about her rhodie that is a year old. It's a white one and it bloomed this spring. As the new growth is starting to come out, these stems with leaves are wilting. They look like limp spaghetti and as time goes on, more of these young limbs are wilting. So far the older growth is not affected, just the new growth for this year.

She took a piece of the wilted limb to the garden center where she bought the plant - a local small garden center - and they looked it over. There are no insects or insect damage, they said. Just the puzzling wilted new growth.

They are taking it back and giving her 50% off on a new rhodie as a replacement. I saw the plant myself on it's way back to the nursery. I'm stumped as I've never seen anything like this.

The plant was growing in what I'd consider perfect conditions - dappled sunlight and an hour or two of direct sunlight in the afternoon. Others growing near it are fine.

Any ideas, so that she can avoid this happening again?



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morz8(Washington Coast Z8b)

There is a disease called phytophthora that will cause wilt in rhododendron planted in poor drainage - the nursery should be able to recognize that on seeing the condition of the roots if she returned the plant.

When you saw it, did you form any impression of the rootball? I don't expect you to be able to recognize disease, but I'm wondering if the plant was still in its nursery pot shape or if roots had begun to establish out into the soil. Not loosening the rootball can be a common mistake made upon planting - the rhododendron will appear fine for a while or even as long as a couple of years, then almost always begins to decline and eventually dies - not enough roots taking up moisture to support top growth and lack of nutrients.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2009 at 10:34PM
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mainegrower(Z5b ME)

morz8's explanation may well be correct, especially the part about the need to loosen roots in pot grown rhododendrons, but there is another possibility. Most of the East, and I'm assuming this is the case in your area of PA, has been experiencing an exceptionally cool, wet spring. This has led to a tremendous surge in the top growth of rhododendrons. This soft new growth will wilt and flop especially when the sun hits it until it has a chance to firm up. Relatively newly planted ones are going to show this even more dramatically because the top growth this year is out of proportion to the root mass.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2009 at 4:45AM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

Both responses were right on the money. Phytophthora wilt is caused by wet conditions. Normal wilt of new growth is more serious with dry conditions. So it is important to know which you have. In one case you can water, in the other you need better drainage.

If the plant doesn't show wilt in the early morning, do not water. If the plant shows wilt in the early morning, do water if the soil is dry. Water thoroughly and then let dry out. If the plant shows wilt in the heat of the day, that is normal.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2009 at 8:20AM
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I am having the same problem with my rhodos...I am thinking that in my case this is definately a root mass to size of rhodo...big rhodo...very small root diagnosis is that mine were improperly planted...thank you.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2009 at 9:00PM
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