JARS v57n2 - Tips for Beginners: Taming the Rhododendron Jungle

Tips for Beginners: Taming the Rhododendron Jungle
Dr. Mark Konrad
Sewickley, Pennsylvania

A maturing garden has the vulnerability of becoming overrun by all kinds of plant vegetation. There are a number of reasons for this which include the following:
1. As the plants get larger they grow together, which makes maintenance more difficult.
2. Rhododendrons need various degrees of shade. But different trees are a source of seed with subsequent prodigious production of saplings.
3. A mulch is usually in place, which provides an ideal medium for the seeds.
4. Vines and weeds of the ground cover type find an ideal environment for growth.
If there is a choice, one should be careful in the selection of trees for shade. Maple and wild cherry trees can produce a profusion of saplings. It is so difficult to get rid of sassafras seedlings that it might be wise to remove the mother tree. Oak trees can reproduce in significant numbers, but the seedlings are not difficult to control. The multiflora rose is almost impossible to eradicate.
Maintenance is relatively easy with the right tools and a little snipping, clipping, and pulling as you go along. A long handled lopping shear is helpful to reach the most accessible areas. A long handled tree branch trimmer can be used for the less accessible areas. Metal pliers can be used to pull out some of the larger saplings. A long handled scuffle hoe can be used to eradicate the smaller seedlings growing in the mulch, clipping them at ground level. A small hand-pruning saw is also needed at times and a small hand clipper is an invaluable aid. Even a weed whacker may have a place in certain areas at times.
Several other areas of maintenance might also be mentioned. In most instances, I believe ground hugging tree limbs should be removed; this holds true for rhododendron branches, unless one has an interest in ground layering propagation.
With judicious pruning, sometimes old specimens can be controlled. Unfortunately, as time goes by, old specimens may have to be replaced with young ones to keep the garden vibrant.
Summary: The aspects of maintaining a maturing rhododendron garden have been reviewed. If too many years go by without control, the entire garden can be lost. We have all heard about and have seen lost kingdoms. Unless we intervene, we all know that nature will have its way.
Comment: This article does not include the use of and evaluation of herbicides, for which I have mixed feelings. Nor does it cover the aspects of proper pruning.