New rhodie grower and struggling

tinamcg(Z5b Kansas City)July 16, 2006

I can grow just about anything, but I've never been able to keep azaleas alive and this year I bought my first rhodies, two PJMs to flank our front walk. Their performance has been variable. One died within a week (sudden and irreversible wilt) and the nursery replaced it for me. The replacement seems to be happy and is beginning to set next year's buds. No problem there.

The other one is leaf rolling and wilting on one half of the plant. This started a couple days ago when temperatures rose into the 90s.

Here are some cultural facts, and I'm looking for some advice on what else I can do or what I've done wrong:

-- I amended the soil real well with peat and humus, added a bit of aluminum sulphate and let it sit over the winter and into the spring. Then I bought and planted the rhodies. The soil was high in organic content and very fiable when I started; the pH was just too high for a rhododendron. It is now at about 6.0.

-- I made sure to plant the rhodies a couple of inches above the soil level and not bury the roots too deeply. They are mulched with shredded pine needles.

-- I pruned the roots at planting time, and used a pruner cleaned with alcohol.

-- Both plants have been watered adequately, but not fed yet. I also did not spray them with any pesticide. I found the odd bit of anthracnose on one of them but just removed those leaves.

-- It is a very well protected area that is mostly shaded, with some dappled sun in the afternoon. Hostas, hydrangeas, ferns, impatiens, brunneras and ligularias do really well in the area, so I think rhodies should, too.

I don't see any sign of root rot or drying out. I'm hoping this is just leaf roll that will resolve when the temps drop next week. It just bothers me that one half of one plant is looking wilted. Any advice would be really appreciated, thanks.

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Wilting and leaf rolling is usually a symptom of heat stress or lack of moisture. Your plant is not yet established and has to deal with high temps and transplant shock. Whatever amount of water you provide to the other plants may not be enough for this new plant.

Continue watering (in the morning) if you check the soil and it feels fry. I personally have to manually check them often during the first summer but, then again, this is Texas.

Remember that the top few inches of soil (where the plants reside) dry up quickly so you may have to water very often thru the plants first summer. Make sure you have 2-3" of mulch and water if wind advisories are given for your area.

This condition should stop when the temps go down but consider increasing the amount of water if the soil is dry from one day to the next.

Good luck,

    Bookmark   July 16, 2006 at 3:19PM
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tinamcg(Z5b Kansas City)

Thanks Luis. The soil doesn't feel dry, but I'll keep checking and water when necessary. I worry about overwatering. I noticed a chipmunk hole near the base of the sick half of the plant. We get chippies all the time in that area and their burrows don't usually cause any harm. I filled it in an tamped it down, but I'm wondering if the chippie might have done some damage.

Thanks again.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2006 at 9:15AM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

Several problems:

Aluminum Sulfate is great for hydrangeas but is toxic to rhododendrons.

Chipmunks can chew on rhododendron roots. In any case this is hard on the plant.

Wilting in the heat of the day is normal. If they are still wilted in the morning, then you have a problem.

Here is a link that might be useful: How to grow rhododendrons.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2006 at 4:46PM
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