If you crave spring colour, rhododendrons could be the answer. Walk into a garden centre packed with rhodos and it’s like being in a sweet shop – big blowsy flowers in candy shades of white, pink, yellow, red and purple.
There’s something like 25,000 varieties and 850 species – and many of them reach vast proportions, but there are also lots of beautiful smaller ones, ideal for pots and tubs.
Any of the May-flowering yakushimanum hybrids are worth growing. These compact varieties are free-flowering and look great in pots on the patio or in the garden. One of the nicest, ‘Dreamland’, has pale pink flowers opening from white buds, or try ‘Fantastica’, whose flowers are red in bud then fade to pink and red before fading to a paler pink. Both reach around 1m (3ft) in ten years.
Rhododendron lepidostylum has attractive leaves, blue-green on top and golden scaly beneath, plus yellow flowers in late April and is good for a small space. It reaches 1m (3ft) in height and width. There are also red-leaved varieties such as ‘Everred’ which has glossy, burgundy young leaves and red-purple flowers 60cm (24in) high or ‘Wine and Roses’, with bronzy leaves and a red underside with rose pink flowers 1m (3ft) high.
Rhododendrons are ericaceous plants so they prefer acid soil. Although they won’t tolerate really alkaline soil, most cope with soil that’s on the neutral side, especially if you add a few sulphur chips around the base of your plants in spring and autumn.
Regardless of what soil you have, if you choose one of the small compact varieties, they’ll thrive in pots of ericaceous compost. Keep them moist and always plant them at the same level they were growing at in their pot because they don’t like being planted too deep. Rhododendrons are also shallow rooted, which means they’re prone to drought-stress during hot, dry weather. Next year’s flower buds form at the end of summer, but when plants are stressed in a drought they can drop these buds, so keep your rhodos moist from June to August to avoid losing next year’s flowers.
MUST-BUY PLANT: Hosta
Every day: Hosta ‘Golden Haze’
Soft, succulent leaves of golden-green emerge tightly furled in spring and open out to form a splash of colour all summer. Beware slugs!
Extra special: Hosta ‘Halcyon’
Blue-leaved hostas tend to have thicker, tougher foliage so aren’t as popular with your garden’s slugs. Try gunmetal blue ‘Halcyon’ for hole-free leaves.
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