Need help diagnosing rhododendron problem (with pic)

Brent_In_NoVA(z7/6 VA)August 9, 2005

I am not sure what info would help. I purchased this Rhodie back in 2002 as a Mother's Day gift for my wife. It is a Lee's Dark Purple or Lee's Best Purple (I could not track down the tag right now). It did not bloom in 2003 or 2004, but it finally had a decent showing this spring. It is now looking pretty sad. It has not grown much since it was planted.

The exposure is basically eastward, but with my tan siding it probably gets more sun than is ideal (though I see other rhodies in my neighborhood with similar exposure doing fine). The soil is mostly native clay that had been mulched for the last few years.

Here is a picture. Sorry if it is a little hard to make out the details of the plant. I stuck some Malva in back to try and add some height to this area of my garden since the rhodie is not doing that. The Malva seems to be a favorite of Japanese Beetles.

- Brent

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Brent, the first thing comes to mind is that it's too close to the foundation and 1) cement from it still leaching thus making soil more alcaline than rhodies would prefer and 2) reflected heat and light off the wall could make it very unhappy if not watered frequently. Also, if planted under overhang of the roof or even worse, at the drip line it may have some general water supply issues.

On a separate note, it seems that it bloomed fairly well this year, but you didn't deadhead it. Deadheading rhodies is not a must when not practical, but for such small size plant it would be easy and very beneficial for the next year bloom production.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2005 at 11:00AM
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Brent_In_NoVA(z7/6 VA)

Yea, it might be worth checking the PH of the soil. That wall is actually an odd divider wall and I don't think there is a real foundation under it. The plant is spaced out about 5' from the wall with hopes that one day it will fill in. It is not under an overhang or drip line.

Looking at the plant it appears that I planted it a little too deep (I cannot see a rootball, just branches going into the dirt). I like to think that I am a better gardener now than when I planted this shrub. Also, at the time I thought that roots were delicate things that should not be disturbed, so I would not have spread them out or fixed any circling roots. I don't know if the plant was at all root bound or if there were any circling roots. I have debating about digging it up to check, but I did not want to cause more bloomless years.

The light conditions are probably the biggest factor. Hmmm...I have been thinking about putting a trellis on that wall. Maybe a vine on a trellis would help with the reflected light. Or maybe I should just try to find a new home for this one.

I hate to admit that I paid $50 for this shrub. I picked up one last year from Lowes for $15 and it flowered nicely and has put out a lot of new growth. That one is in the backyard in much more shade.

BTW, how do you deadhead a Rhodie? I thought about that at one time but I was not sure if I should cut off the tip with some pruners or if I should be able to pinch off the tip. I did not want to be cutting off the new growth sprouts.

- Brent

    Bookmark   August 10, 2005 at 12:38PM
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Deadheading is easy. Just grab seedpods in one hand and twist them by another. They coming off relatively easy.
They are sticky, so you may want to wear gloves or just snip/cut them with pruners or scissors.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2005 at 3:20PM
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morz8(Washington Coast Z8b)

And Brent, it's really better if you deadhead shortly after the flowers have faded, before they form seed pods so you might keep that in mind for next year.

" I don't know if the plant was at all root bound or if there were any circling roots."

Unfortunately, you may have no choice but to lift and look if you want to save your plant if it was planted too deeply and was rootbound. Can you probe next to it and see if in two years time the roots have expanded out into the surrounding soil or if they are still in the shape of the nursery pot?

Henning - "Plants wilt and die slowly when their roots become blocked:
Root strangulation - This is best prevented by proper root pruning when planting. If the plant is not too far gone, it might be rescued by digging and removing the soil. Then cutting any circling roots that may be strangling other roots. The roots need to be opened up. Any time the roots are exposed during this process, they must be kept moistened. Roots that dry out will die. "

    Bookmark   August 11, 2005 at 1:52AM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

I would dig it up and look at the rootball. It will probably just pop right out of the ground. It may be drowning in the winter or it may be too deep.

Old concrete doesn't leach much calcium. Mortar from a chimney is a different matter. Plus bricklayers leave a lot of spilled mortar when constructing a chimney.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2005 at 7:05AM
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Brent_In_NoVA(z7/6 VA)

I dug the sucker up this morning. I loosened up a nice wide circle, but the reality is that I could have just pulled it out of the ground. The picture below shows the small root ball. There were very few roots extending out. I wish that I had a better memory of planting this shrub. Looking at the root ball, I am guessing that it was balled and burlaped. There was no sign of burlap, but the soil on the root ball was hard gray clay that is different from my red clay soil.

I soaked the root ball in a bucket and tried to clean off as much of the clay soil on the root ball as I could. I then planted at the correct depth (it was almost 3 inches too deep). For now I will keep it watered and hope for the best.

- Brent

    Bookmark   August 18, 2005 at 8:01AM
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morz8(Washington Coast Z8b)

No wonder it's not thriving - it's missing that pancake of fine surface roots completely.

I think all you can do at this point you've already done...have you mulched to conserve moisture and condition soil? The bits that are dead would best be removed with a clean sharp cut so as not to offer a foothold for disease or insects.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2005 at 11:10AM
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hello, I also have a question about rhododendrons. Last year my roddy was so pretty and full. This year it bloomed on the sides only and the top was void of blossoms. It has also lost most of its leaves. Is it dead? I can send a pic if necessary. Can anyone help? Thanks.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2006 at 6:12PM
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morz8(Washington Coast Z8b)

Bethee, a picture would help. Without seeing it, my first guess would be that your rhododendron suffered winter damage on the parts most exposed to cold....

    Bookmark   May 25, 2006 at 12:06AM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

One more thing. It looks like you fertilized too late in the year or with nitrogen. There are small leaves that were deformed because they did not harden off before winter.

It doesn't look like a pH problem or nutrient problem because the leaves have a healthy color. From the look of the roots, it looks like the surface may be too dry to support healthy surface roots. You may not have enough mulch. Make sure the mulch is not close to the trunk. You need about a 2" space between the trunk and the mulch.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2006 at 12:21AM
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Brent_In_NoVA(z7/6 VA)

bethee: It is usually a better to start a new thread if you have your own question. I do not mind, but you might get better responses.

I am sorry to say that the rhodie in the picture did not make it. We had some very dry spells last summer after I replanted it and I did not keep up my promise to keep it well watered. It was looking very sad by the time I dug it up and I figured that I could get a nicer looking replacement for under $20 anyway. I actually stuck some ornamental grass in it place.

- Brent

    Bookmark   May 25, 2006 at 4:45PM
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If I planted that Rhodo in my clay soil the fine light colored roots would rot from the poor drainage aspect found with clay soils. But my clay is also dark, not red. That might be what makes a difference for you.

I have found that dark clay soils do have higher food levels for trees and shrubs than found in red or lighter soils. But from what I have heard Rhodos do not need high levels of nutrients in the soil, or they will grow more leaves than flowers. Not exactly sure how accurate that information is though.

At any rate keep us updated on how your Rhodo does now that you have raised it to the correct level.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2006 at 8:37PM
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