It is not unusual that rhododendrons are planted at anytime of the year that freezing conditions do not exist. Because of the demand of the foliage for an abundant supply of moisture, the care required in moving them is more important than in moving other or deciduous plants. This opening paragraph need not frighten the gardener, for rhododendrons transplant and move quite easily.
Choosing The Site
Plants purchased by the average gardener are usually small enough to move quite easily. The same basic principles will apply in either the case of small or large plants. The succeeding paragraphs will also touch on these large mature plants.
Let it be assumed that a certain area in the garden is available for the admission of a rhododendron or a group of rhododendrons. Usually with not too much changing or rearranging of the already existing shrubbery the rhododendron site is chosen.
It must be borne in mind that the correct variety of rhododendron be chosen in relation to exposure to winds, sun, soils and even climate. Many gardeners assume that the removal of some perennial or undesirable shrub or plant is about all that is required in choosing the location for a rhododendron. Fortunately this is correct in most instances and the gardener finds his rhododendrons content and doing well with little if any thought or skill given to the desirability in the selection of a site or location.
Rhododendrons are costly and expensive and, so much more the reason that the gardener do his utmost to understand just a few basic wants of the plants. A most important factor is the soil in your particular location, as soils are highly variable and many different types may be represented in an area as small as a city block. Special preparation is required if any objectionable conditions relative to texture, drainage or chemical reaction are found.
In the matter of drainage, which is also of importance much could be written, and the possible combinations of locations in relation to soil types and drainage might be quite extended. Whether it is of greatest importance in a brief article of this kind I am not so sure. Some years ago much was made of location as regards to drainage. The fact that the average garden is usually about the home precludes the possibility of swampy conditions. It is just common sense that a home yard and garden is not a pond and those conditions are not tolerated about the home. Remedial measures have been applied in the form of drainage for other reasons, so in most case rhododendrons will fit in without further measures being employed.
As to soil conditions and types. This category is of great meaning and importance to rhododendrons. Even in heavy stick clay fine rhododendrons can be grown, but for successful plants the soil should be in good condition and of a texture that will permit its being brought in contact with the roots of the plant without packing so as to become bricklike upon drying. Light soils do not behave in this manner and heavy clay soils can be conditioned with the application of peat moss or other suitable material.
Setting The Plant
The hole for the rhododendron should be prepared sufficiently wide to permit the ball of roots to be placed readily, and also provide ample space for the addition of peat moss. If the ball or earth appears dry when planted, soak the plants root system two or three hours before planting. It is not necessary to remove the burlap coving when planting.
Set the plant just a little deeper than the ground mark on the stem of the plant. This is usually quite apparent by the slight difference of color on the stem. In the forest where rhododendron grow in the wild they set practically on the surface of the ground. Their growth is mostly in the layer of leaf mold that covers the forest floor and the fibrous roots feed from the surface.
Now that the rhododendron is planted it should be mulched with any of several suitable materials. Peat moss is neat in appearance and easily available in the city. Other materials have proven equally adaptable. Decayed manure, oak leaves, dried bracken (ferns) or pine needles may be successfully employed. Later when the plant has become established fresh manure can also be used as a mulch, and such an application in the early Winter is most beneficial.
As mentioned above in some instances large mature rhododendrons are transplanted in an effort to establish a finished appearance in the garden. The digging of a large rhododendron must be done carefully so that a good ball of earth is obtained with practically all the roots remaining in unbroken contact with the soil.
Begin by excavating a trench all around the plant at a sufficient distance so as not to cut into the roots. Remove the soil to a depth of eighteen inches and throw back far enough so as not to interfere with the actual removal of the plant.
After digging entirely around the plant carefully dig towards the roots. When the first outer roots are exposed all around the plant, dig no closer. By brushing and rubbing with the hands much earth can be removed that does not contain roots. What now remains is the entire root system, encased in a circle of earth eighteen inches high. This circle of earth should next be undermined, being careful to stay below the lowest roots of the plant.
After the root system has been undermined to a distance of one-fourth of the diameter of the circle, gently tip the plant over to one side. The root ball has now raised up several inches on the opposite side. Into this opening place a rolled or wadded section of light canvas or heavy burlap that is somewhat wider than the diameter of the root system.
Then by tipping the plant back on its opposite side the wadded material may be pulled all the way through this opening. The plant, which may weigh. several hundred pounds is now resting on a section of material without actually having been lifted. The four ends of material may be used to lift or drag the rhododendron from the hole. If the new location is nearby, the plant may remain on the material and be pulled to its new site without being balled. In planting a large shrub much the same applies in regards soil preparation and other conditions as does a small rhododendron.