R. Purple Gem

covellaNovember 13, 2005

I love this rhodo - I first had them when I lived in NC and I've never gotten over them. I planted one 2 years ago into my leach bed, and thought I'd set it up high enough. It was a expensive large plant. It's never really gotten going and now has just a few buds for next spring.

At the same time 2 yrs ago I planted a Mountain Laurel Olympic Fire in a nearby area. It also never did much, of course despite the rumors of deer not liking it, my deer never got the memo so its had much damage. I dug up the Mtn Laurel a week ago on a whim and lo and behold, it was far too damp underneath and the root system had never grown. Now I'm wondering if thats the problem with the Purple Gem also. I replanted the Mtn Laurel in a sunnier spot into a good, appropriate soil mix. I'm planning to spray with deer repellent and will mulch after freezing and probably wrap it with burlap this winter. The more I look at the Purple Gem the more I'm convinced I should just move it now. Am I nuts or what?

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No you are not nuts. Rhodo and azaleas want a constant moist acidic soil. Soggy roots will stress them and cause great risk for loosing them either with winter stress or summer heat stress.

How high did you raise the bed? Azaleas usually grow fine in beds raised 6 inches above any soggy soil conditions. I am not sure how high Rhodos need to be raised.

If the lighting environment is good why don't you just raise the bed to the required height?

I have a friend who we did that for some azaleas her builder's landscaper planted directly in the clay soil, and once we make made a proper acidic yet sufficiently draining 6 inch raised bed in the same location and replanted her azaleas, they quickly began looking perfectly happy, and since then have flowered profusely.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2005 at 4:47PM
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Maybe that is the answer. Since today it started to snow.... and its yucky outside I'm not too psyched about finding a new place for it. Maybe I'll go out tomorrow and dump a couple wheelbarrows of sandy bedding mix into that space and set it up 6" higher and see what happens. I'm afraid if its so wet it might not survive the winter.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2005 at 5:34PM
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Do you have peat or pine needle mulch you can mix with the sandy bedding mix? I am concerned that if you only use the sandy mix the raised 6 inches will not be acidic enough.

A raised six inch deep bed of 80% completely wetted Dry sorghum peat mixed with 20% compost is the best for Azaleaa and Rhodos. After replanting mulch with 4 inches or more of shredded pine bark or pine needles.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2005 at 2:39AM
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I've got an unopened bale of peat, but the bedding mix is equal parts sand, screened topsoil and leaf mold. I'm afraid I don't even know what Sorghum peat is. Do you have an alkaline soil in OK? We are on the acid side already. My native soil is extremely dense clay. I had the county extension agent out in the spring and he said its called Mahoning Clay, the densest in this region of the country. It holds water and when it dries it is hard as cement. But I do have about 40 azaleas and rhodos here that are doing quite well. What I have for compost is 3 year old completely rotted shredded bark mulch that is nearly back to soil, 24 year old rotted logs that are back to soil, and my current batch of homemade compost which is garden and kitchen debris, paper, cardboard, etc. It is now time for me to go out and compost - we had our first hard freeze last night. In my somewhat limited gardening time I have good years and bad years for getting things done. This year I got most of the gardens cleaned up - (with the help of my lawnmower) and the pot ghetto planted and the forced bulbs in and the dahlias lifted. But I haven't gotten to composting yet. We will have warmish days yet off and on in NE Ohio so all is not lost. I just hate watering shrubs and trees in this kind of weather though - awful work, yet I think I've really saved some newbies by doing it. Since I've gone off the deep end and am talking about transplanting shrubs in this weather I better drag out the long hoses and get ready to water in.

I can use Hollytone to change the pH a bit and fertilize - I usually go around after the temp drops to the 30's and they are all dormant and scratch in Hollytone. I did this last winter per the Hollytone instructions and it worked well for bud production this year. That and I candled all my rhodos to keep the size in check and promote stronger stem and trunk growth. I've removed quite a few trees around the house to let the light in. Many of the older rhodos like the maximas have gone into making thickets and some of the branches had gone long and spindly. I pruned very heavily last year and candled to strengthen the shrubs so they will be better situated to grow in the increased light.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2005 at 5:00AM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

There is no such thing as sorghum peat. It is sphagnum peat moss. It is the Sphagnum moss plant itself after it starts to decompose in a peat bog.

A product sold as Sphagnum moss is dried sphagnum moss. It is dry but when you add water it sometimes comes back to life. It is used to line wire baskets.

Plant propagators use milled sphagnum moss which is the dried sphagnum moss chopped into small pieces. Milled sphagnum moss mixes well with pearlite or vermiculite.

Gardeners use sphagnum peat moss, which comes in bales, to add organic matter to a mineral soil. Some people try to use peat moss as a mulch but it is disastrous as a mulch. It dries out the soil and also blows away easily. It is correctly used as a soil amendment.

Gardeners also use composted peat humus, which comes in plastic bags and looks like black dirt, to add acidic organic matter to mineral soil. I prefer using composted peat humus when I plant rhododendrons. I mix it 50/50 with the soil.

[sorghum is a millet which is a cereal grain and is used to make mollasses]

    Bookmark   November 17, 2005 at 8:51AM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

Alyrics posted an excellent reply, but a couple statements could be misunderstood.

You don't use Hollytone to change pH and then add fertilizer. You use Hollytone to both change pH and fertilize. I know that is what you meant, but someone could read it wrong. Hollytone is an acidic fertilizer. You use Hollytone as fertilizer. It is fertilizer with powdered sulfur which is a very safe and slow acting acidifier.

You said that Hollytone applied in the winter helps with bud production. That is very true, but the new flower buds don't appear in the spring after it is applied, but a year and a half later when the buds produced in the summer bloom the following spring.

Also, you candled your rhododendrons. Since rhododendrons don't have candles like pine trees do, I assume you meant that you cut off the new growth. This is an excellent way to contain the size of a plant if done after blooming and before early summer when new flower buds are forming. You can actually get the same result on the plants just before they bloom by breaking off the foliage buds while taking care to not damage the flower buds. When the flower buds start to swell before they open, it is easy to tell the difference between the flower buds and the foliage buds. This way you don't have to worry about damaging the branches or leaving stubs of the branches which you get when you prune.

I don't mean to be picky, but when I read the article I felt it could be confusing to someone if they didn't read it carefully.

Getting back to the original post, I think the Purple Gems were in a location which was too wet and should be moved.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2005 at 9:21AM
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Well you are right on about the Hollytone. I just didn't take the time to be exact about the reasons for application. I use it as a fertilizer as my soil is on the acid side already, but I knew it is at least a mild acidifier. I found that using Hollytone in the early winter is a good time for me to get it done - there isn't anything else going on outside and therefore I remember to do it, and its one last time I can go out and do something in the garden - so there's a bonus right there. I'm not one to fertilize several times a year. Last year I did it in November/December and my bud production this year is excellent so I'll be doing it again. Yes - I know that is actually 18 months in advance of flowering -but that's kind of cool I think - I like knowing its a benefit to the long term health of the plant. I am a big fan of the Espoma products, I use Bulbtone religiously also. And they aren't really that expensive if you buy the 50 lb bags - it lasts me 2 years.

Well I thought the technical term was candling. Its the same process I use on my Mugo Pine, snapping off the new leaf/stem growth that comes up beside the finished flowerhead - or in the case of Pinus, the branch. Its my chance to take the flowerheads off also. Its a sticky business isn't it? I did it this year not only to contain the size of the plant but also to destroy infected tissue. I got a horrible attack of azalea gall in some Girard Scarlet azaleas 3 years ago, which I ultimately removed and threw away, but the gall spores unfortunately did spread. I sheared all my downwind azaleas and pieris heavily this past spring, and removed all new growth from the rhodos as well in an attempt to reduce the impact of the infection. As far as I've read there is no 'cure' for this and I do not use toxic stuff in my yard except for container plants. I sprayed a few times with a fungicide and its possible that helped - hard to say as I was also out everyday handpicking the galls. Its a pain in the keister and I'd really rather do something else with my time. I've been reading about using corn meal as a natural fungicide and I'm much more willing to try that. I even contemplated spraying a dilute bleach solution on the top of the soil in spring but decided against it.

Rhodyman - picky is good, I'm here to learn.

Does anyone have an idea what the name of the last photo is? Pink buds fading to white flowers, its about 6' tall in heavy shade

    Bookmark   November 17, 2005 at 10:59AM
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Great pics. That "not known identity shrub" certainly is pretty. The leaves remind me of a shrub looking magnolia tree growing at the St Louis zoo that my daughter liked. The flowers almost remind me of some Rododendron blooms I have seen. It will be interesting to see how people who know identify that shrub.

You must have a very fertile clay soil, or you are enjoying rewards of your past efforts in taking care of the landscape.

I have lots of heavy clay on the lot where I live, and for years I was so discouraged about digging in such sticky terrible stuff, I only maintained the front, which years earlier had been professionally landscaped with some holly, red tip photenia, Crape Myrtles, and red bud trees. Later I had Sumard oak trees planted.

It was just last year when a new neighbor replaced her fence and then decided to stain only half of it on my side of the yard, that I got motivated to plant things in the back yard along that fence line. Upon doing that I realized that the neighbor's drainage correction work for her yard had created a soggy yard condition at the end of my lot near the street. So I built a berm that wrapped the corner to route that water on to the street instead of rotting the roots of my newly planted azaleas and shrubs. That caused me to see a need for and do plantings on the berm. Then watering all that new stuff made me focus on my other neighbors decaying fence, so that lead me to plant a row of Thuja Green Giants.

Now, my earlier avoidance of not wanting to do any landscaping or gardening in my clay soil, has been changed, and I just plant mostly in raised beds with good soil, or compost my oak leaves and use that to help with the few things I have planted in the clay.

My back yard does not look as good as the pics you posted. Your efforts look great, and it is easy to see that you have been at it much longer than I.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2005 at 2:01AM
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Well here I am 2.5 yrs later. I dug up the Purple Gem, transplanted it once and last yr it was looking so bad I knew I was going to lose it, so potted it into a very large container with a heavy helping of Sweet Peat, peat moss and 3 yr old aged wood mulch, then mulched very heavily for the winter. It has gone absolutely gangbusters - loves the container and the location. The plant looks almost as good as it did when I bought it - but much larger. It looks like I will have a great show on it next spring. If we have a heavier winter I might wrap it in burlap, but last yr I didn't do anything and it just took care of itself.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2008 at 11:29PM
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