Rhododendrons: You Need Them

'Holden' Rhododendron with it's pink blooms only gets 3' x 3'. Use as an accent, in the border, or woodland garden.

Rhododendrons have earned their place in the garden. There's a reason why, some say, they are overused. It's because, besides being native to our beloved mountains, they're pretty much indestructible and beautiful. Read on and then add them to your garden. You won't regret it. Here's a list to convince you.

Rhododendrons are:

  1. Evergreen.
  2. Maintenance free.
  3. Shade lovers.
  4. Great for slopes. 
  5. Good hedges, screens, and privacy walls. 
  6. Understory shrubs in forested areas. 
  7. Easy to rejuvenate prune when necessary. (Read about rejuvenation pruning here.) 
  8. Available in a variety of colors and sizes.
  9. Late spring to early summer bloomers. 
  10. Shrubs that like cool climates. (They liked this past winter!)
  11. Loaded with beautiful, showy blooms.  

Growing rhododendrons is actually pretty darn easy. Here's what they need to thrive. 

If you're mailbox is too shady for a clematis, try a rhododendron.

Growing Rhododendrons:

  1. Part Sun to shade. 
  2. Well-drained, moist soil. They suffer if they dry out.
  3. A ph of 4.5-6.0.
  4. Prune immediately after blooming as they bloom on old wood.
  5. Berm up for better drainage when planting.
  6. Fertilize yearly with Holly Tone.

That's it. Easy plants. In WNC where shade dominates, what to plant on a slope is pretty much everyone's issue, and the "messy forest" between neighbors needs tidying up, rhododendrons are your go-to shrub. Check out these five, and fall in love again with a beautiful, flowering, evergreen shrub that likes shade. Not everything is new under the sun. 

And yes, rhododendrons have their problems like all plants (spider mites, lacebugs, weevils, cholorosis, fungal dieback, winter burn), but typically if they are situated correctly (correct drainage, sunlight, etc.) they are pest and disease free. So, if your current ones are having problems, assess the location and consider transplanting. 

Rabatz rhododendron

Rhododendron 'Rabatz'

Bloom color: Red 

Bloom time: Mid-to-late season 

Size: 5' x 5' in 10 years

Cold hardiness temp: -10

Sunlight: Can handle more sun than other rhodos

Flowers: Round truss holds 9-11 flowers 2 1/2" -3" 

Use: Accent, Massed

Roseum elegans.jpg

Rhododendron 'Roseum Elegans'

Bloom color: Lavender

Bloom time: Late season

Size: 6'-8' x 6'-8'

Cold hardiness temp: -25

Sunlight: Can tolerate shadier conditions

Flowers: Ball shaped truss holds 20 flowers 2"-3" 

Use: Hedge, Screen, Woodland garden

Rhododendron bloom Yaku Princess.jpeg

Rhododendron 'Yaku Princess'

Bloom color: Buds pink, blossoms white

Bloom time: Midseason

Size: 3' x 3'

Cold hardiness temp: -15

Sunlight: Likes high open shade, sun dappled

Flowers: Ball shaped truss of 15 flowers 2 1/2" 

Use: Accent, Borders or Beds, Massed, Woodland garden

Yaku Prince rhododendron.jpeg

Rhododendron 'Yaku Prince'


Bloom color: Pink

Bloom time: Midseason

Size: 3' x 3'

Cold hardiness temp: -10

Sunlight: Likes high open shade, sun dappled

Flowers: Ball shaped truss of 14 flowers 2 1/2"

Use: Accent, Borders or Beds, Massed, Woodland garden

catabiense album.jpeg

Rhododendron 'Catawbiense Album'

Bloom color: Pink buds, white blooms

Bloom time: Late mid-season

Size: 6' x 6'

Cold hardiness temp: -25

Sunlight: Full sun to part shade

Flowers: Conical shaped truss of 18 flowers 2"-3" 

Use: Hedge, Screen, Woodland garden edge


Written by Cinthia Milner, garden coach and blog writer.

B.B. Barns serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina and Tennessee.