Put a purple gem rhododendron anywhere in your landscape where an informal touch is desired. These compact evergreens bloom every spring with abundant bunches of brilliant purple flowers. While some additional care is needed for this cultivar of rhododendron, you will easily see the similarities in the basic process common to all rhododendron varieties. A few minutes a week devoted to the care of these plants will provide gorgeous results.
Things You'll Need
- Sulfur or iron sulfate
- Acid based fertilizer
- Pruning shears
Take a sample of your garden soil to your local county extension and have them perform a soil test.
Prepare the soil before planting. Purple gem rhododendrons prefer a well-drained acidic soil that's rich in organic matter. Add sulfur or iron sulfate to the soil in the amounts recommended by the soil test. Choose a site that will not subject the rhododendrons to harsh afternoon sun or winter winds. Rhododendrons have shallow root systems, so clear other vegetation from the planting site.
Water your rhododendrons regularly; twice per week seems ideal for young plants in most locations. Give enough water to moisten the soil to a depth of at least 4 to 6 inches. Reduce watering to once a week as plants mature. Stop watering your purple gem rhododendrons in September to harden them for the winter months.
Feed the plants in April or May with a fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants, preferably a 6-10-4 formula. Apply approximately 1 oz. for every 3 square feet of garden soil. Do not fertilize the purple gem rhododendrons after July 1. New growth later in the season will not survive the winter.
Mulch around the base of your rhododendrons to a depth of 2 to 3 inches. As old mulch decays, add more on top to maintain a consistent thickness. Increase mulch in the autumn to keep roots warm heading into winter.
Prune rhododendrons annually in early spring before flowering starts. On purple gem rhododendrons, a shoot will have four rosettes of leaves. Prune back to within 1/4 inch of whichever rosette suits your plans for the size and future of the plant.
Keep your purple gem rhododendrons warm. Unlike other varieties of rhododendron that can tolerate sub-zero temperatures, purple gem rhododendrons will die if exposed to temperatures below 15 degrees Fahrenheit. If freezing temperatures are expected, water the bush thoroughly before covering it with a blanket. Ongoing cold temperatures may require a heat source.
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