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March plant of the moment

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Rhododendrons & azaleas

Rhododendrons and azaleas belong to the genus Rhododendron and are perfect for brightening up shady gardens. March is a great time to plant them and if you already have some early flowering varieties in your garden, you may see their spectacular blooms appearing this month. 

All rhododendrons are ericaceous, which means they don’t like to grow in alkaline soil, preferring an acidic soil with a low pH value. You can use a soil testing kit to assess the suitability of your soil.

By planting rhododendrons in containers or raised beds you can manage the soil they’re growing in. It’s important to use a good quality soil-based ericaceous compost, which will be rich and nutritious with a pH value between 4.5 and 5.5.


Eventually the compost will need feeding so it’s a good idea to add an ericaceous plant food to your watering can to maintain the long term good health of your plants.


Most rhododendrons prefer to grow in dappled shade, although some of the smaller types are happy in full sun, as long as the soil is moist. They all like to have their roots near the soil surface so avoid planting them too deep.


Rhododendrons and azaleas are easy to look after. They don’t need much pruning but when it comes to watering, it's important to know the pH value of your water. Tap water is often too hard with a high pH value and can have a detrimental impact on these plants over time. Using rainwater you’ve collected in a water butt is a good way to avoid any problems.

Azalea

Top tips

  • Mulching around the plants with a couple of inches of chipped bark keeps down weeds and helps seal in moisture.
  • If you grow rhododendrons and azaleas in containers, make sure they’re always kept gently moist and never dry out.
  • After flowering, nip off the faded blossom trusses with your fingers or snip them off with secateurs, taking care not to cut past the first leaf where next year’s buds will be forming.
  • Remove any branches that appear dead or are crossing or rubbing against each other.

Companion plants


Acers


Camellias


Magnolias


Japanese Maples


Pheasant eye daffodils (narcissus poeticus) 


Corydalis ‘China Blue’


Euphorbia ‘Silver Swan’ 


Pieris ‘Forest Flame’

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