Does Rhod. Maximum require mostly shade?

poaky1October 18, 2012

I have noticed that it seems like they need shade or will die. I got 3 wild babies this spring and the 2 I kept in shade are fine and the one that had more sun, not full sun but a good bit dried up and desicated. They are all about 6 inches high. They were all in-ground, planted when dormant. I know I should'nt have taken from the wild, but you can't find the wild form anywhere else. The commercial ones are not the same.

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Chances are that the one which died did so because of lack of water, not the sun itself. R. maximum blooms very late, so moderate shade is advisable if only to insure that the flowers last more than a few hours. As with many rhododendrons, a balance between enough sun to set flower buds and enough shade is sometimes not easy to achieve. R. maximum is a shade tolerant species, but does not automatically die in a sunny location as long as it has enough water.

R. maximum is a very variable species in the wild. A reputable rhododendron nursery selling this species will supply you with the real thing, but it may not look exactly like the ones you're used to.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2012 at 5:39AM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

I agree with everything akaMEgrower said, but would like to add that any plant that is moved needs protection from desiccation such as partial shade, more frequent watering, some wind protection, etc. Transplanting a plant from the wild is even more tricky because they have very few roots and their roots are much longer. The plants grown in cultivation have much better root-balls from being transplanted several times and growing in richer media and containers.

The best way to collect R. maximum from the wild is to collect seeds. That is what most people do. The mature plants that are collected from the wild are usually large plants that are rescued before they would otherwise be destroyed by crews clearing land for new construction or highway construction. They are usually cut to about 12" from the ground and dug.

One more thing, the various named forms of R. maximum that you find in the trade are ones that were found in the wild and propagated from cuttings. It is found in the wild from Nova Scotia to Georgia. There is much variation in each location and from location to location. The best of these variations have been selected. These selections include:

"Curly Max": pure R. maximum that has a unique curly leaf. offers seeding of Curly Max and also seedlings from superior wild selections. offers a form called R. maximum f. rubrum which has flowers that vary from white to red.

Some of the red flowering ones are propagated from cuttings and sold as 'Red Max".

If you want a plant to come true to the wild, choose either plants from cuttings collected from a plant in the wild or seedlings from seed collected in the wild. Plants from tissue culture have a different plant habit due to hormones that are applied to cause vegetative buds to form and sprout.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2012 at 2:21PM
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I tried seeds last fall and had no success, so this spring I found and dug up the 2 wild ones that are doing good. I have babied them, with extra water and extra shade. They will be shaded by oaks, the oaks need a couple more years before they fully can shade the Rhodies. In the meantime I have used milk crates with netting type fabric. I am more interested in the wild forms leaf size and appearance than flowers. So they don't need full shade if their roots are established already? Mine will probably be in mostly shade, but I wondered if it required it. I had posted here last year and was told about the nurseries that sell Rhod. Max. They had a more fancy form than the original. Well, I am happy I have the 2 wild ones that are okay. The roots were very small when I moved them, come to think of it. They are always found in the shade in the wild, though. In contrast my store bought Rhodies can take a good bit of sun. They are easier to grow successfully than the wild ones.They come with a nice rootball unlike those in the woods. Well, thanks for your views on the matter guys. I hope my Rhod. Maximum keep on doing good.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2012 at 8:36PM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

R. max. doesn't need shade normally. Yours do until they get established because you disturbed the roots.

Too much shade will make them grow tall and spindly and not bloom.

R. max. is a species rhododendron. There is no "original." As a species it has many variations. So the "fancy" forms of R. max are still R. max. Only hybrids that are vegetatively propagated are true clones of the original. What you want is called a common form.

To learn how to raise rhododendrons from seed see the link below.

Here is a link that might be useful: How to Grow Rhododendrons from Seed

    Bookmark   October 21, 2012 at 6:31PM
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jimbobfeeny(5a IN)

I've had good success with Gardens Of The Blue Ridge - I sent an email to them, and they said they just collect seed from local populations and grow them. They are in Linville, NC.

I've got a Maximum growing in a raised bed north of a mature white pine - The rhodo has open sky above it, but it's protected from everything but morning sun. It's done really well!

I've also got one that I started from ARS seed - I started it in June, and it's only 2 inches tall. Looks good, though! I've got it under grow lights.

    Bookmark   October 25, 2012 at 8:08AM
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jimbobfeeny(5a IN)

Also, I think Rhododendron maximum will grow in a fair bit of sun - The reason rhododendrons are mostly found in shade is because of their germination habit. The seed is tiny, as are the seedlings - Very slow-growing for the first couple months.

If you want a native rhodo in the sun, try R. carolinianum (minus?). They grow in full sun on the Appalachian heath balds.

    Bookmark   October 25, 2012 at 8:13AM
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Thanks Jimbobfeeny for the info. I will probably wait til next late summer/early fall. And collect some native seed. I will be happy with my 2 surviving common rhodie max. I will try next spring to slowly expose the 2 I have to some sun. They are under oaks but will still get some sun, the trees will be widening and I'm hoping I can remove all fake shade and the trees can do their job of shade provider. I actually like the shade grown habit of the forest dwelling native rhodies. Well I've never seen the rhod.Max. grown in enough sun to make them more bush-like. I will try seed again next fall or late summer. When ever the seeds are out.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2012 at 7:39AM
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I got a picture of both Rhod. Max babies that have survived transplant this past spring.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2012 at 5:56PM
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