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Growing rhododendrons in pots can be done very successfully, especially if you carefully choose the variety you grow. Here’s how to have a display of these glorious plants in containers.
Choose your rhododendron variety
Look for a dwarf variety of rhododendron. I like ‘Ostbo’s Red Elizabeth’, Rhododendron yakushimanum cultivars, and the deciduous Rhododendron ‘Lutescens’. You can grow any Rhododendron in a pot for a shorter period of time, but they will quickly outgrow their pots, so choosing a smaller variety would be best.
Choose the pot
Choosing the right size and type of container is one of the essential elements of successfully growing rhododendrons in pots.
The size of the pot should be about one-third larger than the container that the rhododendron came in. Although the rhododendron is going to grow bigger, this plant doesn’t like being in too large a space to start with. You should plan to gradually increase the size of the container gradually over the first few years.
The material of the container doesn’t matter. Ceramic and terracotta plots look more natural than plastic ones. However, plastic containers are lighter and easier to move. But this is also a downside as the plant may become top heavy and topple over. You need to add additional weight to a plastic pot by putting some stones in the bottom of it. I prefer to use terracotta or glazed pots.
Prepare the pot
Regardless of the material your pot is made of, what is absolutely key are the drainage holes. Rhododendrons need moist but well drained soil. Turn the pot over and check that there are lots of drainage holes. If there are just a few, you need to make more, perhaps around the perimeter of the base. This is more difficult in ceramic and terracotta pots, although they usually have enough holes so not usually an issue.
Add some broken crockery to the pot to help with drainage and to stop the compost from clogging up the drainage holes.
Choose the location
It’s easier to move the pot to the right location when it’s empty. Rhododendrons like partial or dappled shade as they naturally grow in woodlands. While they do need sunlight, too much direct sunlight will cause their foliage and flowers to scorch. Move the pot to a suitable location for the plant’s well-being, ensuring it’s out of the line of cold winds.
Prepare the soil
Choose a potting mix or compost developed for acid-loving plants. Look for the word ‘ericaceous’ which means acidic. As you can completely control the growing environment of rhododendrons that you grow in containers, this is a good option for those who have alkaline soil in their garden. I also like to use John Innes ericaceous compost as it soil based so retains moisture better.
Fill the pot up to three-quarters full with the compost.
Plant the rhododendron
Make a well in the compost and put the root ball of your plant in. Pat the soil around the root ball, adding more compost if necessary. The top of the root ball should be just below the level of the soil – don’t plant it too deeply.
Water in the plant well, ensuring that the water is draining through the soil and out the bottom of the pot.
Care for your plant
The soil of plants grown in containers tends to dry out quickly. Keep an eye on the dryness of the rhododendron’s soil and water when necessary, especially during the growing season as lack of water can lead to bud drop. Also, make sure that the soil doesn’t become water-logged. The drainage holes may need cleaning out if this happens.
Use rain water to water your rhododendron if that’s possible. Tap water is often too hard – it has too much calcium – and may cause your plant’s leaves to turn yellow.
Solve any problems
Your rhododendrons in pots are still susceptible to the problems of garden-grown plants. Become informed as to what to do when things don’t go well by reading Rhododendron pests and diseases, Why are my Rhododendon buds falling off?, Why is my rhododendron dropping its leaves?, and Why is my rhododendron going yellow?