Has anyone grown rhodies or azaleas in CO?

carlisaAugust 7, 2006

Was wondering if anyone has successfully grown rhododendrons or azaleas in CO or the Denver area? What would I be up against? What needs to be done with the alkaline clay soil and is it a constant maintenance sort of thing? I miss the beautiful plants I had in Idaho.

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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

You face several problems in the Denver area. There are some areas with natural wind drainage from the mountains where hurricane force winds are not uncommon. I am familiar with one such area between Boulder and Denver. Also, when Littleton was a new community, people were having trouble getting any kind of tree started.

You will be facing several problems.

1) Alkaline Soil. Raised beds are the best solution for this. Rhododendrons and azaleas have shallow roots, so a raised bed that is 12 to 15 inches high is normal. Use a good acidic soil that is well drained.

2) Alkaline Water. The raised bed won't help if you use alkaline water. Use only rain water including water collected in cisterns or neutralized water.

3) Winter wind and sun. These are serious problems. A wind break and some winter shade are necessary. Summer sun is not trivial either. Some summer shade is necessary.

4) Hardy plants. Being from Idaho, you are probably familiar with this problem. All azaleas and rhododendrons have a characteristic hardiness. Winter hardiness and summer hardiness are both important. They usually go together.

Here are some interesting references:

Gardening challenges for newcomers to Colorado (Colorado Extension)

Iron chlorosis (Colorado Extension)

Growing Azaleas and Rhododendrons (Missouri Extension)

Azalea and Rhododendron Care and Culture (Oregon State University)

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

    Bookmark   August 8, 2006 at 9:39AM
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Thanks for the incredibly helpful advice. Ironically, I live in Littleton - all the landscaping around my house is 20 years old and with the exception of my lawn (that's for another forum - sigh) and some Aspens that didn't make it, is doing well.

After reading through your posting, I think the biggest problem I would face is collecting rain water. I don't think we get enough rain on a consistent basis. We are hopefully on the tail end of a ~7 year drought, but it is not like the "good old days" when it would rain every afternoon.

I have a ninebark and a couple spireas that get supplemental iron sulfite each year for chlorosis, and I'm wondering if I used that and something like miracid if it would work if I had to water with the hose.

You bring up a good point about the wind and sun. I live on a lake and it can get windy at times. And it sounds like I would have to shade the plants in the winter.

It sounds like a lot of obstacles - will have to think about it as I'm not sure if it's something I can tackle right now.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2006 at 10:06AM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

I have no idea where Littleton gets its water. If it is from a watershed, it is rain water and should be good. If it is from a well, it may be treated by the water company. The problem with alkaline water in Colorado is with untreated well water.

I wouldn't give up, but I would proceed slowly and see what works. If you drive through the older communities in Denver they have huge cottonwood trees and nice landscaping. Perhaps Littleton is getting a little more plant friendly.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2006 at 9:33PM
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As a recently moved landscape architect(35 yrs. Evergreen CO to Coastal Georgia) I can REALLY appreciate the yearning. All the previous advice is correct. Know too that PJM Rhodies are sold and can be hardy in the Colorado Front Range...and (far) Western Slope, in very protected and irrigated locations....almost courtyard-type areas.
Buy Hey...try a few!

    Bookmark   August 13, 2006 at 2:33PM
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I just came back to Denver from vacation in Wa. St. I to am interested in growing rhodies in Co. I noticed that most Rhodies are growing around Conniferious veg. I have an area were junipers are growing that I would like to remove and replace with Phodies and Azalias, would the soil type be good for rhodies to thrive there?

    Bookmark   June 12, 2012 at 3:06PM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

Junipers are much more tolerant plants than rhododendrons. The desert of eastern Oregon is full of Juniper, but no rhododendrons. Rhododendrons need acidic soil, good drainage and partial shade. Colorado has a reputation of having alkaline well water, alkaline soil and severe winds. The water problem can be solved by using rain water. The alkaline soil problem can be solved by using raised beds. You will need varieties suitable in your climate. The wind problem must be addressed. High winds in winter desiccate evergreen plants severely. It is not the same as wind-chill, but similar. It is the dry air and the wind. But the cold is what makes the air dry.

Check the references in my August 8, 2006 response above.

Here is a link that might be useful: How to Grow Rhododendrons and Azaleas

    Bookmark   June 13, 2012 at 9:41AM
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