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How to Grow a Rhododendron in a Container

I spotted some "dwarf rhododendrons" at my favorite nursery. Would I be able to grow these rhododendrons in a pot, and would they need any special care?

rhododendron flower

Answer: Whether you are limited on space or just want to add detail and focal points to a certain garden area, container gardening is a wonderful way to create spectacular showcases for favorite plants.

Rhododendrons, with over 1,000 varieties in an abundance of breathtaking colors, are great for adding often-evergreen appeal. With the right care, they can thrive beautifully in containers.

Here are a few tips on how to successfully grow rhododendron in containers:

Choosing the right container: When selecting the right pot, you must take into consideration the size of your rhododendron because the size of the plant and the size of the container go hand in hand. A good rule of thumb is that if you have purchased a rhododendron from a nursery or garden center, choose a pot that is about a third larger than the original container your rhododendron came in. The key factor in container selection is to make sure there are lots of drainage holes. Rhododendrons can often fail when grown in pots due to poor drainage. (Try using pot feet to not only keep your wooden floorings safe but to also keep your plants from sitting in excess water.) lastly, rhodies are shallow rooted, so they may like a wide, shallow pan rather than a tall, narrow pot.
Soil: Once you have selected the right container, plant your rhody with a potting mix formulated for azaleas, which will be at the acidic pH that rhododendrons love. Make sure to set the shrub so it sits at the same level it did in its previous container, or even a bit above that level (in relation to the surrounding potting mix). Rhododendrons prefer this position; they do not want to be planted deep. Do not fill all the way to the top of the container. You want to make sure to leave a few inches at the top so you can apply a thin layer of compost, shredded leaves or mulch around the base of the plant to help lock-in moisture. Reapply as this layer becomes depleted.
Maintenance: Place the container in a location with lots of indirect sunlight, part shade or dappled shade—somewhere that the plant has access to the sun but without risking the flowers and foliage of becoming scorched and damaged. Make sure to water rhododendrons thoroughly when the soil feels dry to the touch. Apply fertilizer for acid-loving plants, like HollyTone, every spring to help encourage growth. Remove any spent/wilted flowers. Repot every 1 to 2 years.
Plant selection: Choose a dwarf variety that thrives in your climate for the best results—try to keep within 3 to 5 feet in height. Shrubs (and other plants) in containers should be rated to at least one cold-hardiness zone colder than yours. For instance if you live in USDA Zone 6, choose a variety that's hardy to at least Zone 5. Otherwise you should offer winter protection. Some popular dwarf selections include: most yaks (R. yakushimanum cultivars), Rhododendron lutescens and ‘Ostbo’s Red Elizabeth’.

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