Gardening: Behold the brilliant rhododendron

The true magnificence of rhododendron flowers.

The true magnificence of rhododendron flowers.

CAN you imagine the surprise when 19th century plant hunters walking through a hidden valley in the Himalayas saw the brilliant colours of rhododendrons for the first time?

Magnificent rhododendrons, some up to 10 metres tall, are hardier than most people think and grow well in this region.

They are the perfect companions for azaleas, daphne, pieris and a host of other plants.

The earliest varieties start to flower any time now right through until October. Fine specimens can be seen in flower in Commonwealth Park during Floriade.

They are generally considered as shade-loving plants, preferring the early morning sun to the hot, westerly sun. Therefore, I wouldn’t recommend growing them in shadeless new suburbs that are blasted by hot winds in summer.

The ideal watering method is by drip irrigation and mulching is vital to their relatively shallow root system. Canberra Organic Mulch from Canberra Sand and Gravel is ideal.

For strong root growth, I suggest initially applying Maxicrop Seaweed Plant Nutrient then use Neutrog’s Seamungus, a combination of seaweed and chook manure.

Rhododendrons respond well to hard pruning in spring, if you have some growing too large. Incidentally, there are many dwarf varieties suitable for container growing.

IDEALLY suited to a large bed combined with camellias and rhododendrons is the colourful autumn foliage of the medium shrub Hydrangea quercifolia or oak leaf hydrangea.

It grows to about one metre tall with a similar spread and its leaf shape is similar to oak tree leaves, only much larger. It is grown more for the rich autumn leaf colour than the flowers, which are unlike most hydrangeas, being white only and up to 40cm long.

Originating in the south-east of the US, like most hydrangeas it prefers filtered shade.

WINTER starts on June 1 and yet only four weeks until the shortest day of the year. In eastern Australia, the winter solstice will be on June 22 at 3.16 am.

For gardeners, as eternal optimists, this will mean gradually lengthening daylight hours. Leaves of bulbs are now very much in evidence and by mid-June Prunus mume, the flowering apricot with its deep rich flowers, will be in blossom.

WINTER is also the best time to plant deciduous fruit and ornamental trees and deciduous shrubs.

Here are a couple of important points: when selecting trees or large shrubs at a garden centre, always ask staff to lift them. Always lift by the pot, never by the trunk, as these new trees have only just been potted up the roots will not be established.

It is best to decide where the tree is going to be planted before buying. This way it can be taken straight home and planted immediately. Always check the roots and trim any broken roots with sharp secateurs, preventing entry of fungal diseases.

Always dig a square hole. This encourages the roots to spread naturally rather than following the sides of a round hole.

Plant trees in shrub beds, not in lawns.

Plant trees in shrub beds, not in lawns.

THERE are good reasons for planting trees in garden beds rather than in lawns. Trees planted in lawns are subject to damage by mowers, which can kill them by ring-barking, likewise whipper-snippers.

During the drought, when lawn watering was forbidden, trees in lawns simply did not get watered, resulting in the unnecessary death of many trees.

Applying chemical fertilisers to lawns can also be detrimental to trees and shrubs when planted in lawns. Finally on this point, when fruit trees are planted with grass right up to the trunk, with grass being a rapacious feeder, it can reduce the fruit crop by up to 40 per cent.


• The tall-growing Sedum “Autumn Joy” will have finished flowering and the fleshy stalks can be cut back to ground level. This is also the time to dig up and divide.

• Plant rhubarb, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, onions, peas and spinach now.

• Snails are still active, use the pet-safer Multiguard Snail and Slug Killer as recommended by Dr. Harry Cooper, the TV vet.

• Soak raspberry canes in Maxicrop Seaweed Plant Nutrient for an hour before planting and then water in with same after planting.

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