Letter to the Editor
Deep River, Connecticut
The article appearing in Vol. 51, Number 3, Summer 1997, "Containers Are Murder," by Richard Murcott, East Norwich, New York, I must take strong exception to; indeed it has infuriated me no end, and I know others feeling the same way that I do. It would seem that Richard Murcott, and a few others, set themselves up as being anti container culture and pro field culture of rhododendrons. He left out some important facts. He talks about the average home owner who would like to plant out a few rhododendrons on his home grounds, buys a containerized plant and plants it in his yard; subsequently it dies. He blames this almost entirely on its having been grown in a container. Let us take a closer examination of this situation.
I find many average homeowners, and, yes, even rhododendron enthusiasts, members of the ARS, going to mass selling, discount type stores to buy a rhododendron. Yes, they are container grown, and this is a loose term at times. I have found plants boldly lifted out of field culture and placed in containers, sold as container grown. The very greater majority of these plants sold in the mentioned type of stores are purchased from wholesale plant factories, under the guise of being and calling themselves nurseries. They turn them out in millions, under a very rapid culture in one or two years under high fertilization and watering. Believe me they will not very often succeed under the best of home garden culture. Even in field culture of rhododendrons that Richard Murcott seems to prefer, if the plant is not dug from the ground carefully, many roots can be cut off in digging and the plant again will not succeed; even field culture can be practiced in a detrimental way. Plants often lie around in these stores without water, both containerized and field grown. Yes, I will agree that many casual gardeners and even experienced rhododendron enthusiasts, even members of the ARS, often buy and plant out plants and then either neglect them or over pamper them particularly with water, resulting in death of the plants. I write this from experience. Oh, yes, I almost forgot many of these stores, plants sources, are not qualified to handle plants and should not be selling plants.
I am a small grower of rhododendrons and other plants, in containers. I grow them very slowly under drip irrigation, never selling the plant until at least two to three years from the rooted cutting or tissue culture liner (even tissue cultured propagated plants have been receiving a bad name because of laboratories turning them out in extremely high rates pushing the cultures too fast and too far). My fertilization program is very slow, and my watering program quite a bit lower than the plant factories (so called nurseries). I have had extremely few complaints, and when a complaint developed, have led it to over pampering with water, or even at times, planting them out, watering them and then taking a long vacation to some exotic place, leaving the plants to fend for themselves. Can't be done. Yes, even planting them into garden areas riddled with black vine weevil and other insects. I could go on and on.
Do not condemn container culture. It has been around since the ancient Chinese, and will be around forever. Choose carefully where you buy your plants and then give them the care they deserve and need to succeed.
I do not mean to start controversy but cannot let an article like "Containers Are Murder" go unanswered.