Some Items Concerning the Philadelphia Area
By Charles Herbert
One of the outstanding events in 1958 for rhododendron fanciers of this area was the forming of the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society, last January.
It is needless to say that every meeting has been a successful one. The talk and showing of slides by Mr. David Leach was one of the most outstanding. Mr. Leach's photography was that of an expert.
This has been an interesting year. Many new plants have bloomed - most of them are small plants that have been obtained from Mr. Joe Gable. A number of fine plants from Oregon, all new to me, were planted this past spring. These were R. 'Arthur J. Ivens', R. 'Goldfort', R. 'Trilby', and R. 'Augfast'. All did very well and, as yet, have not been injured by the very cold weather of December. The winter of 1957 and spring of 1958 was below normal but no great variation in temperature was experienced. Snow fell on several occasions and this helped out during the cold weather. In March we had a very heavy, wet snow fall, 21 inches, at my place. Several old plants were broken down and many other branches split and had to be cut off. The Dogwood trees were very hard hit and many ruined. The branches of the Pine trees broke off like pipe stems, burying the rhododendrons under tree limbs and snow. After the bad storm the rhododendrons and azaleas bloomed beautifully and the garden was a mass of color. Some rhododendrons that had the buds froze off for a number of years bloomed. One of these was R. yunnanense and a fine form of R. augustinii which Mr. Gable gave me, also did very well.
Most pleasing of all, was the many people who visited the garden, many of them members of the American Rhododendron Society. It was most interesting to talk to them, about the plants they raise. Collecting rhododendrons has been my hobby for years and I think the visitors liked the display very much. After talking with some of the visitors I have come to the conclusion that the unusual display this year was due to the steady cold temperature and the snow cover. The Rhododendrons that seem to take the peoples eye were Mr. Gable's Degram, Atrier #10, Atrier Oak, Cil, Stump, Cathaem #4, Sir James, (wardii x discolor x fortunei) and 'Pioneer' and many others. Of the hybrids that bloomed, and are not often found around here, are R. 'Naomi', 'Britannia', 'Gladys', 'Harvest Moon', 'Mars', 'Mrs. E. C. Sterling' and 'Betty Wormald' came in for their share of attention.
I have been plagued with the Azalea leaf roller this past spring and had to use Parathion to control the pest. Parathion is very dangerous to use, but if handled correctly as labeled it will cause no trouble to the operator. I do only a small area at a time and only on calm days. Checking the plants after its use, one can hardly find a live bug of any kind. Malathion in the powder form mixed with water would also do the job. The oil emulsion form of Malathion will burn the leaves of deciduous azaleas and the plant will die. Scale also got hold here and it will build up to a point where it will do a lot of damage before discovered. A good emulsion in early spring before growth starts will take care of scale and other bugs as well. Another bug that came in on some local rhododendrons is the stem borer-and what this bug won't do to a prized rhododendron! A large plant of 'Gretchen' began to look sick on the top and leaves were turning yellow and I knew the pH of the soil was O.K. Looking carefully I found the hole of the stem borer and the top was just about chewed around the stem under the bark.
I have used D.D.T., applied about May 1st. and again about 10 days later. This will get most of the winged insects as they lay the eggs along the rough part of the bark. If you notice sawdust on the leaves or under the plant look for a hole and sometimes a stiff wire pushed into the hole will get the worm. This fall I tried a new trick. I mixed a spoonful of Parathion in a pint can full of tree wound paint. 1 have never seen any evidence of the stem borer since this was applied.
Upon observation and in reading on the subject of mulching I believe a lot of mistakes are made in mulching Rhododendrons. It is applied too heavy. Several inches is plenty. I had a sad experience several years ago when I bought several young plants from Mr. Gable. Among these was R. 'Atrier'. When Fall came around, I thought I would be extra kind to the plants and heaped up the leaves. All went well until the first breath of warm air hit R. 'Atrier' the following Spring-it was dead. In looking over the plant I found the bark all loose from the stem. I mentioned this to Mr. Gable and for a while he could not understand what was wrong as he had no trouble with it. I then told how careful I had been in mulching the plants. There is your trouble, you have put it on too heavy he told me, after I said I had applied about four inches of Oak leaves around the plants. I am happy to say I took his advice and I am growing R. 'Atrier' and other rhododendrons without any bark being cracked on the plants. This brings up the subject of what to mulch with. I let the Oak leaves fall where they choose, but this fall when the leaves were falling a high wind blew them to the next County and I had no leaves. I read where chips that are ground up by the tree trimmers will do, so I thought I would try some. Going to work one morning I saw a crew working and asked for a load of the chips. Glad to give you a load the Foreman said. He was an extra kind fellow and dumped three loads. Did you ever get a truck load of these chips? I had enough for all the rhododendrons in Phoenixville. I think these ground up branches will do a good job. Peat and saw dust have their value as a mulch but both have a tendency to dry out. When peat and sawdust dry out the death of the plant soon follows-it is very hard to keep it moist. I have seen peat dry out in and around the roots even in times of heavy rains. If plants are bought with pure peat it is advisable to knock off most of the peat before planting. I grind up leaves with the rotary lawn mower and use the ground leaves, some sand and good top soil as a planting medium along with the peat.
I have a lot of people ask how do you keep the plants so nice and green, what kind of fertilizer do you use? The only fertilizer that I use is cotton seed meal applied along towards the end of February. If the pH of the soil goes up over 5.5 iron sulphate, sulphur or ammonium sulphate or the combination of all three is used in the early spring. I never use aluminum sulphate except on a plant that I wish to kill for that is just what aluminum sulphate will do if much of it is used.
I found several years ago that I was running out of good soil in which to plant the rhododendrons. The soil in the lower end of my place is all clay and not wishing to drown the plants in this clay I just placed them on top of the clay and wheeled in the good soil and I had another half acre I could plant. So clay is no problem. The worst is the back breaking job of wheeling in the dirt. A wheel-barrow of top soil does not go very far. All of the above is not the advice of an expert but as it works for me it may work for some of our readers.