Rhododendrons on the Pacific Coast


Bernie Dinter, Dinter Nursery 
2205 Phipps Rd, Duncan dinternursery.ca

Rhododendrons are the most widely grown ornamental plant on the West Coast. They are evergreen, have spectacular blooms between February and June, depending on the variety and are deer resistant. Many varieties are sun tolerant, but their preferred location is in the understory of tall trees. Many of our properties have tall trees suitable for growing Rhododendrons. Most varieties originate from species found in the Himalayan mountains with summer monsoon rains. Our climate is Mediterranean with dry summers, making it critical that they receive summer irrigation. With their shallow roots, they are sensitive to drying out and like a porous, well drained acidic soil high in organic matter. Regular fertilizing is beneficial, but the critical time to feed is as the blooms fade and new growth develops. Using a high phosphorus fertilizer, flower buds are set for the following year by September and are visible by their large plump appearance. There are hundreds of varieties to choose from, many developed by breeders in our area. One can plant a sequence of plants that blooming from February to June and enjoy interesting textures of foliage the rest of the year.

Cultural requirements for Rhododendrons are basic. They must have drainage during our wet winters but receive water in our dry summers. Being shallow rooted, they need fresh organic material spread underneath from time to time. A balanced fertilizer should be applied regularly and lightly with the main feeding after blooming. If they are not happy in a location, their shallow compact roots allow them to be moved almost anytime with little shock. There are few pests with the common ones being root weevils chewing notches along the leaf edges in late spring and leaf blotches from stress or too much moisture. With basic care any garden should have a place for these lovely shrubs.