Rhododendrons are beautiful in the summertime, but if not properly cared for in the winter, their growth and blooming can be devastated. Not only can the frigid temperatures harm the plant, but the bitterly cold winter winds can tear the poor rhododendron apart.
There are a number of steps you can take to prevent trauma for your plants, and it’s even suggested that you take every precaution you are able to in order to protect your rhododendrons. Before you begin, take a trip to your local nursery and make sure that there aren’t extra steps you can take that are different for your region.
You Will Need:
Mulch, preferably of oak leaves, pine bark chips and composted hardwood burlap sack (optional)
Step 1 - Keep the Plant Well Watered
Entering into their dormancy period, the rhododendron plants should be kept moist. If you get a normal autumnal rainfall (which is usually pretty high in places suited to rhododendrons), you won’t really have to do anything. However, in the event of a dry fall, keep a regular watering schedule. Give it one last soaking right around Thanksgiving.
Step 2 - Cover Your Plant
If your plant is younger, or going through one of its first winters, you may have to cover your plant. This is highly likely to be the primary barrier protecting your plant from wind damage. Giving your rhododendron shelter by way of covering with a burlap sack can not only cut the wind, but also help to keep the plant warm when the temperatures dip low.
This is an optional step, because some plants are just too large for a burlap sack, and if they are that large, they likely don’t need coverings—they’ve weathered enough winters to be used to it.
Gently cover your entire plant with the sack and tie it around the trunk with a piece of twine or string.
Step 3 - Mulch the Base
Put about 3 inches of the mulch around the base of your rhododendron to help prevent a condition called “winter burn.” This occurs when the ground is colder than the air. The roots freeze, and when the plant needs food or water, the roots can’t take it and transport it because all of the water is frozen.
Be careful; some creatures like to nest in (and eat!) mulch. To prevent them eating away at your rhododendron, keep the mulch from being directly on the trunk of the plant. This also helps to keep the entire root system warm, as rhododendrons’ roots are known for growing shallow and wide.
Please note: As climates change from region to region, the needs of your rhododendron may also change. If you are still unsure whether or not your plant needs to be covered or which mulch to use, it is best that you consult a professional at your neighborhood nursery for advice about local precautions.
All finished! You can go inside and drink your hot cider and throw on your favorite house slippers. Not only are you now cozy, but so is your rhododendron.