Dwarf Purple Gem Rhodie

MsKitty31(4)August 6, 2012

I have had this plant three years. It has been in the same spot all three years. It receives a fair amount of sun...I'd say about 4-5 hours of dappled sunlight. The Rhodie is planted very near a large White Pine tree. I live in Upstate NY, zone 3 and 4. I noticed the 2nd and 3rd year (this year) it looks the same, what I would call 'stemy'. All of the stems have leaves on them and it does still bloom decently but I know next to nothing about Rhodies and have no idea if this 'stemy' look is normal. Sometimes the leaves yellow a bit and/or fold a bit. From the pic you can see some yellowish leaves along with some that have rolled. I have treated the Rhodie with Miracle Grow Miracid and notice this does help the yellowing somewhat but not entirely.

Any suggestions on what is going on with this Rhodie?


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Purple Gem is a widely available and attractive dwarf rhododendron, but unless it is grown in full sun - 6 or more hours of direct exposure - it will become "stemy" as yours has. So, it's a normal look for the ones grown in too much shade, but not as dense as it would be in more sun.

The rolled leaves indicate the need for water, especially if they remain rolled in the cooler temperatures of early morning. Lack of sufficient nitrogen can cause yellow leaves, but this doesn't seem likely if it's planted in decaying pine needles. Likewise, iron deficiency is unlikely because the soil should be acid enough in this location. It may well be the natural color of the newest leaves which will become a darker green with time.

MiracleGro is, at best, very temporary. A better fertilizer is Holly Tone, but wait until next year so you don't stimulate late, soft growth.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2012 at 5:21AM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

I agree 100% with akamainegrower. In fact I would say that MiracleGro water soluble fertilizer can be more of a problem than a solution. Next year around bloom time, apply a good granular rhododendron fertilizer with organic nitrogen like Holly-tone.

If you can cut some branches to give the rhododendron more sun, it will go better. Rhododendrons don't grow much each year, but in shadier location they tend to get leggy and show lots of stems.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2012 at 11:41AM
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Thank you for your replies.

If I were to move this plant into a more appropriate sun location would it continue the 'stemy' look or would it actually fill in? I have never pruned this plant and am assuming I should not.

Regarding Miracle Grow, any type of Miracle Grow; would it be wise to steer clear of it altogether for any plants or just specific need plants like Rhodies? I have used Miracle Grow on other flowering plants and some looked noticeable better and/or increased in size quite quickly.

Again, thank you for your help.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2012 at 3:28PM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

The trouble with water soluble fertilizers is they are temporary. In the case of rhododendrons, they are not only temporary, but contain the wrong things. They are very high in nitrogen which makes nice green plants but does not promote hardiness or flowering. Also, chemical nitrogen fertilizers destroy mycorrhizae in the soil which are very helpful for members of the ericaceae (acid loving plants). If the soil is rich in mycorrhizae, the rhododendrons don't need very much fertilizer and are more tolerant of more challenging pH levels.

There are several other good granular fertilizers besides Holly-tone:

Jobes Organics Rhododendron and Azalea Granular Fertilizer

Whitney Farms Azalea, Camellia Food

Miracle-Gro Organic Choice Plant Food

But never apply as much as they say. Apply half as much and only once around bloom time.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2012 at 7:34PM
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Thank you for your help.

I think my take away is that I should be using a fertilizer that is not water soluble. I think I will switch fertilizers for every plant and stop using the water soluble all together.

Also, if I moved this Rhodie to a better suited spot with more sun would it fill out or am I stuck with the stemy look for the life of this plant?

Thanks again.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2012 at 12:09PM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

If you move it to a more sunny location, it should fill in nicely. I expect it to become more dense, but not grow into a big bushy plant. It will stay small. Once it starts filling in, you can help it along by cutting back any branches that you think are sticking out by themselves.

It would be best to move it when it is not stressed with hot dry weather, like in the fall. Don't prune it when you move it as that could trigger new growth. Then, give it another year to show growth. Growth is about finished now for this summer as it should be. Any new growth spurts may be frozen back this winter.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2012 at 10:38AM
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rhodyman--I have tried to grow this cultivar in my area a couple of times now (Smoky Mtns of Eastern Tennessee) and have not had much luck. It seems not to be too happy about the southern heat although it continues to be readily available here (nursery and box store materials). Have you heard of this experience with this guy? Maybe I'm not doing something right.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2012 at 9:14PM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

Purple Gem is more sensitive to summer heat than most rhododendrons.

I don't know your situation, but Washington, DC, is the southern limit for many rhododendrons except at higher elevations. The hot moist summers limits the varieties that can be grown. Most varieties in this area need much better drainage, more shade, and a very good mulch layer.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2012 at 10:40PM
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