‘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. When a plant is tried and true and beautiful, why ignore it? Too often we search for that “interesting” plant when right in front of us is a stunning, reliable plant that we won’t lose sleep or money over. And, while I’m convincing you, there are many cultivars to choose, all white flowers (‘Chionoides’) to deep purple flowers (‘Lee’s Dark’) and so many colors in-between. Also, sizes for big hedges or small patios and containers. It’s time to rethink rhododedrons in the garden.

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.

Companion Plants:

  1. Evergreen and Deciduous Azaleas

  2. Camellia

  3. Illicium

  4. Pieris Japonica

  5. Mountain laurel

  6. Oak Leaf Hydrangeas

  7. Hydrangea macrophylla

  8. Spring Flowering trees (dogwoods, redbuds, weeping cherry)

  9. Japanese maples

  10. Witch hazel

  11. Magnolia trees

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. 


Rhododendron ‘Percy Wiseman’

Bloom color: Shades of red, pink, purplish pink, yellow throat

Bloom time: Mid-to-late season

Size: 3’-4’ x 4’-6’

Cold hardiness temp: –5

Sunlight: Full to partial sun

Pollinator: Attracts hummingbirds, butterflies

Use: Accent, small gardens, patio areas, courtyards, containers


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, Privacy screen, Woodland garden


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: Buds are pink, blossoms are white

Use: Accent, Borders or Beds, Massed, Woodland garden, Foundation plantings, Small gardens


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: Deep pink buds open to bright pink flowers

Use: Accent, Borders or Beds, Massed, Woodland garden, Foundation plantings, Small gardens


Rhododendron ‘Lee’s Dark Purple’

Bloom color: Dark purple bud, dark purple blooms

Bloom time: Late mid-season

Size: 6′ x 6′

Cold hardiness temp: -10

Sunlight: Part Shade

Flowers: Deep purple buds open to dark-to-light purple flowers

Use: Hedge, Privacy Screen, Woodland garden, Border


Rhododendron ‘Capistrano’

Bloom color: Soft yellow

Bloom time: Earlyl

Size: 3’-5’ x 5’-6’

Sunlilght: Part shade to full shade

Flowers: 2” across with frilly edges

Use: Hedge, Woodland garden, Border


Rhododendron ‘Honey Butter’

Bloom color: Pink, yellow

Bloom time: Midseason

Size: 3’ x 3’

Sunlight: Part shade to part sun

Flowers: 3” wide with wavey edges

Uses: Borders, Woodland garden, Small hedges

Written by Cinthia Milner, garden coach and blog writer.

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