Special Companions: Rhododendrons
Dr. Mark Konrad
Arranging for the proper shading of rhododendrons is a very important part of good culture. Unfortunately, designing the ideal environment is not always easily accomplished.
Dappled sunlight or high shade with open sky are expressions that have been used to describe the ideal for mature plants. Oaks and white pine are two of the best for high shade with the lower branches to be removed as needed. Trees with surface roots should be avoided. Competing roots, especially during dry spells, can be a disaster for surfaced rooted rhododendrons, with small plants being especially vulnerable.
The purpose of this article is to hone in on the care of 2- and 3-year-old rhododendron plants. Young plants are quite vulnerable to hot, dry spells and should probably never be planted in the open without some form of sun protection.
Blueberries can be a wonderful companion plant by providing shade for young rhododendron plants . Ericaceous in nature, they can be very effective as a sunscreen. For many years I have planted young rhododendrons on the back side of the rows and used them effectively as a sun filter. Blueberries are often used as landscape plants and the fruit is an extra bonus. There is always the possibility of combining the two commercially. I also use rows of deciduous azaleas in the same capacity and they have been equally effective.
Blueberries back up a row of rhododendron
seedlings, serving as a sun filter.
Photo by Mark Konrad
As the rhododendrons get older they should be placed in areas of high shade.
Summary: Attention has been called to the critical need of proper rhododendron shading for young rhododendron plants. Blueberries offer one option for providing shade to young rhododendrons.
Dr. Konrad is a frequent contributor to the journal. He is a member of the Great Lakes Chapter.