Rhododendron ~ Mountain Laurel Plant Care Guide
side note … there are over 1000 species in the rhododendron family, if you like this plant recommend further researching varieties for your environment
This popular genus includes the familiar spring-blooming rhododendrons and azaleas, both of which produce large clusters of colorful flowers.
About This Plant
Rhododendrons and azaleas perform best in regions with cool, moist summers. They bloom in late spring to early summer; flower colors include pink, red, violet, yellow, and white, depending on the species and variety. Size also varies considerably, from 1 or 2 feet to over 20 feet in height, so choose plants carefully to fit your garden situation. Although the distinction isn’t clearcut, in general rhododendrons are evergreen, while most azaleas are deciduous (although there are evergreen types).
Plant in spring or fall. Space plants 2 to 6 feet apart, depending on the expected mature size of the plant. Dig a hole only as deep as the root ball and 2 to 3 times as wide. If your soil is in very poor condition, amend the soil you’ve removed from the hole with a small amount of compost. Otherwise don’t amend it at all. Carefully remove the plant from the container and set it in the hole. Fill the hole half full with soil, then water it well to settle the soil and eliminate air pockets. Let the water drain, then fill the remainder of hole with soil and water thoroughly.
Apply a layer of compost under the shrub each spring, spreading it out to the dripline (the area under the outermost branches). Add a 2-inch layer of mulch to retain moisture and control weeds, keeping mulch a few inches away from the trunk. Water plants during the summer if rainfall is less than 1 inch per week. In regions with severe winters, protect evergreen rhododendrons in the fall by wrapping burlap around them. Prune to remove dead, damaged, or diseased branches anytime. Prune to reduce height after flowering in spring. Rhododendrons will grow back from old wood.
Seldom growing taller than 12 feet, the mountain laurel attains a manageable size that makes it perfect for a spot where a smaller tree may be appropriate. Kalmia latifolia is hardy in USDA zones 4 through 9 and prefers a location shaded by taller trees, especially in regions where afternoon sun becomes really hot. Mountain laurels are best left to grow naturally, so little if any pruning is necessary or desirable for these remarkably undemanding plants.
Plant your mountain laurel in a well-draining shady to partially sunny location after all danger of frost has passed for your area. Position the laurel so the crown is just above the soil surface. Acidic soil is preferred, with a range of about 4.0 to 6.5 being ideal. Amend the planting area with peat moss if you need to increase acidity.
Apply 2 or 3 inches of an organic mulch such as pine needles, leaves or wood chips. This will help to conserve moisture and discourage weed growth.
Water the mountain laurel thoroughly, to a depth of about 10 to 12 inches. These plants love evenly moist soil, but won’t tolerate wet feet. Soak the mountain laurel once about every week or 10 days throughout the growing season, and once more just before the ground freezes during the plant’s first year. Once established, you’ll only need to water during extremely dry spells, and once right before the onset of freezing weather each year.
Feed the mountain laurel with an all-purpose fertilizer for acid-loving plants once each spring or fall.
Deadhead flowers as they fade from April through June. This will encourage seasonal blooming and increase next year’s flower production.
Prune out dead, damaged or diseased limbs as they occur throughout the growing season. Other than that, mountain laurel needs no pruning and looks best when allowed to maintain its natural growth habit. Trim up stray stems here or there if you desire a tidier appearance.
Protect your mountain laurel from severe winter weather in zones 4 and 5. Cover the plant loosely with burlap and add several more inches of mulch to the roots.
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