Dandy Man® Purple rhododendron. Photo by: Proven Winners.

Rhododendrons and azaleas are acid-loving, woody shrubs with colorful flower clusters. They prefer damp climates and mild temperatures, but there are rhododendron plants and azalea bushes suitable for Zones 4-9. With thousands of varieties available, there's one to suit just about every garden.

Azaleas are actually a type of rhododendron, and while they are similar in shape to other rhododendrons, they can be differentiated by their hairy leaves and five stamens (instead of the usual ten).

On this page: Basics | Planting | Care | Rhododendron & Azalea Pictures | Design Ideas | FAQ's | Where to See Rhododendrons & Azaleas

BASICS

Zones:

4-9; however, the most variety is available in Zones 5-8.

Height/Spread:

Mature size varies depending on the species and cultivar. Some are as small as 18 inches tall & wide, while others grow to 20 feet.

Bloom time:

Peak bloom generally occurs in mid-spring; however, some azalea and rhododendron plants bloom as early as March and others as late as July.

Flower color:

Colorful flower clusters, known as trusses, come in many hues: pink, white, reddish-purple, deep crimson, blue, and yellow.

Exposure:

Plants do best in partial shade or dappled shade, especially those with large leaves. Tiny-leaved alpine and dwarf species are best in bright sun.

Climate:

The damp, mild climate of the Pacific Northwest is perfect for growing azaleas or rhododendrons; while growing in colder climes, especially the Northeast, can be a challenge.

Rhododendron types:

There are eight different types of rhododendrons to choose from—some are tall like trees, others are more bush-like; some are evergreen, and others are deciduous.

The five most common are:

  • Azaleas (deciduous and evergreen)
  • Species rhododendrons
  • Elepidotes (meaning leaves without scales)
  • Lepidotes (meaning leaves with scales)
  • Vireya (tropical and often epiphytic)

PLANTING

Whether you live in a mild, cold or hot climate will determine what time of year is best for planting. Photo by: John Swithinbank / Alamy Stock Photo.

When to plant:

The American Rhododendron Society (ARS) recommends the following planting times based on your climate.

  • Mild climates: Rhododendrons and azaleas can be planted year-round
  • Cold climates: Early spring planting is best, with early fall planting a good second choice
  • Hot climates: Fall planting allows the plant's root system to establish during the cooler months

Where to plant:

In addition to filtered shade and good drainage, pick a spot with protection from the wind. The ARS recommends that you avoid planting rhododendrons or azaleas near concrete because it creates alkaline soil conditions that are detrimental to their development. Furthermore, don't plant rhododendrons or azaleas near other surface roots that compete for space, water and nutrients

Soil:

Plants thrive in acidic soil (pH 6 and lower) that are light, well drained, and rich in organic matter. “They actually like to grow on top of the landscape, as opposed to deep in the ground,” says Jenkins Arboretum's Harold Sweetman. Amending the soil with organic matter such as leaf mulch or fine bark will help both the acidity and drainage.

Transplanting:

If your rhododendron has outgrown its spot, don’t worry, its shallow roots make for easy transplanting.

Planting tips:

  • Water thoroughly before planting
  • Loosen the root system prior to placing the plant in the ground to stimulate new root growth
  • Position the crown of the root ball a few inches higher than the surrounding soil
  • Space plants according to their mature size
  • Avoid smothering the trunk with mulch

CARE

When deadheading, be careful not to remove the buds or shoots below the flower cluster. Photo by: Agencja FREE / Alamy Stock Photo.

Watering:

Due to their shallow, fine roots, they require regular watering through dry periods. They will show signs of drought stress much sooner than plants with deeper roots. Keep the soil moist, but don’t let it become soggy.

Mulching:

Mulch with compost, bark chips, or pine needles to prevent weeds, since hoeing can easily damage the surface roots. Mulching also helps retain moisture. Replenish the mulch annually, or as needed.

Pruning:

Rhododendron shrubs can be pruned to show off their sculptural trunks or to give an arched or cascading effect. Prune azaleas or rhododendrons right after they finish blooming and be careful not to cut off next year’s buds (rhododendrons bloom on old wood).

Fertilizing:

Proper soil preparation before planting, along with regular mulching with organic material during the growing season means extra fertilizer is usually unnecessary. If you think your soil is no longer up to par, apply a fertilizer designed for acid-loving plants in late winter or early spring. If you’re having a specific problem, check out these recommendations from ARS.

Diseases & pests:

The best way to prevent damage to your plants is to make sure they are properly planted and well maintained.

Rhododendrons are susceptible to the following diseases:

  • Branch die-back
  • Phytophthora and Armillaria root rot
  • Powdery mildew
  • Gall
  • Petal blight

The following insects can be a problem:

  • Lace bug
  • Weevils
  • Thrips
  • Rhododendron borer
  • Spider mites
  • Aphids
  • Azalea caterpillar
  • Leafminers

RHODODENDRON & AZALEA VARIETIES

Swipe to view slides

Photo by: Proven Winners.

PERFECTO MUNDO® DOUBLE PINKBuy now from Proven Winners

Zones: 6-9

Flower: Double-petaled, soft pink flowers (also available in purple)

Habit: Mounding

Height/Spread:2 to 3 feet tall & wide

Type: Evergreen azalea

Photo by: Proven Winners.

BLOOM-A-THON® REDBuy now from Proven Winners

Zones: 7-9

Flower: Red (also available in lavender, white, hot pink, and double-petaled medium pink)

Habit: Mounding

Height/Spread: to 4 feet tall & wide

Type: Semi-evergreen azalea loses some leaves, but not all)

Photo by: Proven Winners.

DANDY MAN® PURPLEBuy now from Proven Winners

Zones: 4-9

Flower: Red (also available in pink)

Habit: Mounding

Height/Spread: to 8 feet tall & wide

Type: Evergreen rhododendron

Photo by: Proven Winners.

DANDY MAN COLOR WHEEL®Buy now from Proven Winners

Zones: 5-9

Flower: Color phases through red and soft pink to white.

Habit: Upright

Height/Spread: to 8 feet tall & wide

Type: Evergreen rhododendron

Photo by: Proven Winners.

BOLLYWOOD®Buy now from Proven Winners

Zones: 6-9

Color: Dark pink flowers with variegated green & white leaves

Habit: Mounding

Height/Spread: 2 to 3 feet tall, 1-1/2 to 2 feet wide

Type: Evergreen azalea

Photo by: Proven Winners.

BLACK HAT®Buy now from Proven Winners

Zones: 4-8

Color: Dark pink flowers with variegated green & white leaves

Habit: Upright

Height/Spread: 3 feet tall & wide

Type: Evergreen rhododendron

Photo by: Cepreй PЫбин / 123RF.

‘SCINTILLATION’

Zones: 5-8

Flower: Sweet pink flowers with greenish-yellow markings in throat

Habit: A broad-branched shrub

Height/spread: 4 to 6 feet tall & wide

Type: Evergreen rhododendron

Photo by: Igor Grochev / Shutterstock.

‘CUNNINGHAM'S WHITE’

Zones: 5-8

Flower: Brown-flecked blooms

Habit: Dense, rounded

Height/spread: 4 feet tall & wide

Type: Evergreen rhododendron

Photo by: Laura Stone / Shutterstock.

P.J.M.

Zones: 4-8

Flower: Reddish-purple trusses; heavy-blooming

Habit: Upright and dense

Height/spread: 3 to 5 feet tall & wide

Type: Evergreen rhododendron

Photo By: Harold Greer.

'ROSEUM ELEGANS'

Zones: 4-8

Flower: Funnel-shaped and lavender-pink with up to 20 blooms per truss

Habit: Dense and spreading

Height/spread 6 to 8 feet tall & wide

Type: Evergreen rhododendron

Photo By: Rob Cardillo.

'KEN JANECK'

Zones: 5-8

Flower: Pink funnel-shaped blooms form on a large truss

Habit: Compact and mounding

Height/spread: 2 to 3 feet tall, 2 to 5 feet wide

Type: Evergreen rhododendron

DESIGN IDEAS

Here are a few tips for incorporating them into your garden:

  • Choose plants with staggered bloom times to guarantee a few months or more of splendid color.
  • Rhododendrons and azaleas make wonderful companions to other acid-loving plants and trees, such as ferns and flowering dogwoods.
  • Many bulbs, like tulips, daffodils, and lily-of-the-valley, will bloom around the same time, without competing for water, nutrients, or space.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Are rhododendrons poisonous?

According to the National Capital Poison Center, serious poisoning is unlikely when small pieces of rhododendron or azalea are eaten. However, life-threatening symptoms can occur when large amounts of these plants, or honey made from them, are consumed. The Center recommends watching children and pets closely when outdoors to prevent this from happening. See more Common Poisonous Plants for Dogs and Cats.

Why does my rhododendron have yellow leaves?

Wherever soil tests neutral to alkaline (i.e., yielding a pH reading higher than 7), rhododendrons will be hard to grow. When the pH is too high, their leaves turn yellow. Try lowering your soil’s pH by digging in organic matter. If this doesn’t work, try an above-ground growing mix for rhododendrons made from 50 percent well-rotted manure, 40 percent high-quality topsoil, and 10 percent shredded leaves, worked together with a 5-inch layer of peat moss.

Why doesn’t my rhododendron flower?

Failure to bloom is often caused by one of the following two factors: Cold weather kills their flower buds, or they aren’t getting enough direct sun. Pick a rhododendron variety that has been proven hardy in your area and plant it in a location with an eastern or southern exposure.

WHERE TO SEE RHODODENDRONS & AZALEAS

Visit the following gardens to see rhododendrons at their finest:

  • The Rhododendron Species Foundation Botanical Garden, the world's largest collection, covers 22 acres in a conifer forest just south of Seattle. The garden boasts more than 600 of the 1,000-plus identified species.
  • Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden is just minutes from downtown Portland and contains an outstanding collection of rare species and hybrids. Explore the seven-acre garden during April and May when the plants are in full bloom.
  • The annual Heritage Museums & Gardens Rhododendrons Festival in Cape Cod is a great place to see many varieties in bloom. Enjoy peaceful walks surrounded by majestic flowers and participate in activities with horticulture experts.
  • Rhododendron State Park in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire features a 16-acre grove of Rhododendron maximum, which has a soft pink, almost white, flower and is the only elepidote species native to New England. Visit in July when the fragrant clusters of pink blossoms burst into bloom-immerse yourself in their perfume by following a trail that encircles the grove.
  • Jenkins Arboretum & Gardens in Devon, Pennsylvania features a diverse collection of over 5,000 rhododendrons and azaleas from around the world. The first blooms begin in late March and the last end in late July.

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