Rhododendrons come in such a wide array of colors and sizes its hard to pick just a few favorites! Starting with the most diminutive little treasure, Rhododendron impeditum grows to a 1’ high mound with tiny gray-green leaves that are smothered with small purple-violet flowers in early to mid spring.
Foliage and how the plant looks all year long are as important to me as the big show of flowers. Rhododendron PJM fits this bill nicely, having polished mahogany purple foliage all through winter on a compact 4’ shrub. In early spring it is covered with pinkish-purple blooms and then all the foliage returns to bright green. This is one of the toughest, most sun tolerant, hardiest rhodies around. Ostbo’s Elizabeth also sports burgundy foliage on its newer leaves, which looks stunning beneath its fire engine red flowers in early to mid spring. This beauty grows to 4’ on a full dense shrub.
Golden Gate is an interesting hybrid with funnel-shaped reddish-orange flowers with golden yellow throats on a 3’ compact shrub with bright green foliage. A similar knock out is Fire Rim, having light yellow flowers with frilly terra cotta edges on a 3’ shrub. A pure canary yellow beauty , Hotei glows softly in a shady garden, growing to a modest 3’ and blooming in mid spring.
There are several rhododendrons derived from a species called yakusianum(called yak hybrids) that have fuzzy new foliage, usually silvery white on top and often cinnamon colored below. As the leaves get older the fuzz wears off to a rich polished green. One gorgeous selection of these is Yaku Sunrise, a dense shrub growing 2-3’ tall and a little wider with blossoms of rose, with darker coloring on the back and edges of each petal.
For incredible violet-blue flowers, Blaney’s Blue and Crater Lake are hard to beat. Both shrubs grow 4-5’ tall and bloom heavily, sparkling with a nearly electric quality in your garden.
For taller beauties, Anna Krushke is lovely with reddish-purple blooms with a deep purplish-red blotch and grows to a dense 5-8’. Pink Walloper and Very Berry grow over 8’ in time and bear enormous trusses of pink flowers.
Azaleas are also mainstays of shady borders, coming in an amazing variety of colors and habits. By far the most popular variety is Hino Crimson, one of the first to bloom with deep pinkish-red blooms completely covering its glossy green foliage that turns burgundy shades in winter. This is the toughest variety, growing well in shade or sun on a 2-3’ dense shrub.
Girard’s Fuchsia also bears dense rich green foliage that bronzes up nicely in winter. It is smothered with brilliant fuchsia purple flowers in early to mid spring on a full 2-3’ shrub. Girard’s Hotshot is similar but its flowers are vivid reddish-orange.
Pearl Bradford is a super dense low grower, to only 1-2’ tall with a spreading habit. It blooms very late(often in June), with large deep pink flowers.
All rhododendrons and azaleas prefer acidic soil rich in organic matter so be sure to amend generously with an acid compost when you plant them. Keep the soil acidic and plants healthy by fertilizing every spring with either Espoma Holly Tone or Dr. Earth Organic Rhododendron Fertilizer. Then just enjoy the profusion of gorgeous flowers every spring!