JARS v52n3 - Tips for Beginners: Transplanting Container Grown Rhododendrons

Tips for Beginners: Transplanting Container Grown Rhododendrons
Ed Reiley
Woodsboro, Maryland

Most plants, including rhododendrons, grow better and remain healthier in soils high in organic matter (10-40%). For rhododendrons, an amended area at least 4 feet wide and no deeper than 8 inches is required for an individual rhododendron. Amending a small planting hole is not recommended. Dig in 2-3 inches (5-7.5cm) of equal parts of fine pine or other non-hardwood bark and sphagnum peat moss to a depth of 8 inches (20.5cm). Do not dig in hardwood bark.


1.  Container soilless potting mixes dry out rapidly in the landscape, killing roots.

2.  Plant roots do not quickly leave the root ball and extend out into the soil where moisture is available.

3.  Planting site is too wet.


1.  Add organic matter to the soil as explained above to encourage root extension and improve soil drainage.

2.  Physically remove the potting mix from around roots and extend roots out of existing root ball at least 3 inches (7.5cm) immediately prior to planting. Protect roots from sun and wind so they do not dry out .

3.  Raise beds 12 to 18 inches (30.5-45.5cm) in wet areas.


1.  Amend the soil with organic matter as explained above.

2.  Dig the planting hole to a depth so the root ball will be slightly above or level with the existing soil level.

3.  Get on your knees near the hole for ease of positioning roots during planting. As the hole is filled, lift loosened roots and extend them out onto the soil so they are planted in a horizontal position in the soil.

4.  Pack soil around the roots with your hands; no feet, please; this will tear tender roots.

5.  Continue to lift and extend roots until the entire hole is filled.

6.  Mulch with coarse, airy material such as pine bark, pine needles, or oak leaves.

7.  Water thoroughly to settle soil around roots.

8.  Place a burlap sun screen/wind break on the south and west sides for the first year, especially in winter.


1.  Water as needed to keep the soil moist but not wet. Most plants die from improper watering - not enough or too much .

Notes: Tender new growth normally wilts on hot afternoon. If leaves recover soon after sundown, water may not be needed. If foliage remains wilted during the cooler evening hours, water is needed. Water deeply (at least 1 inch [2.5cm] of water) and only when needed to keep the soil moist. Hot sunny days dry soil more quickly.