When anyone asks me for Rhododendron buying tips me advice is the same; buy them when they’re not flowering. This is nothing to do with the anticipation of seeing the flowers for the first time, but is about looking at foliage.
When you buy a Rhododendron you’re buying a plant that will be out of flower for a good 11 months of the year, so you’re going to be looking at a green shape for a long time. If you have a very large garden then you have the option to grow all your Rhododendrons in one area, where you can enjoy them when they’re in full flower and ignore them for the rest of the year. In the UK this worked well for many wealthy landowners, some of whom only visited their country estates at certain times of the year so it didn’t matter what was happening while they were away.
In smaller gardens there is a greater need for plants to have more than one season of interest, or in the case of evergreen plants they need to have some other appeal in terms of shape, habit or foliage. While too many Rhododendrons have fairly dull foliage there are interesting leaves to enjoy too. I really should do a post about interesting foliage in Rhododendrons…!
One of the newest species of Rhododendron to be recognised has a rather appealing habit and excellent foliage. Rhododendron yuefengense comes from Yuefeng in China, and makes a fairly tight attractive mound of rounded leaves.
You’ll be glad to hear, though, that this species does have good flowers too! This is a species that flowers fairly late by hardy Rhododendron standards, with shapely cones of pale pink flowers appearing in May and June.
Estimates vary as to how big, and how quickly, this species will grow. My own plant is above 15cm (6″) tall already and is only very young, which makes me doubt estimates of 30-60cm (1-2ft) in 10 years. However I am in a very wet and mild region, so it’s not unlikely that cold or drought would slow it down.
As regards hardiness, again this is a difficult one to judge for sure. This species certainly enjoys life in USDA z8, and given adequate shelter from the worst of conditions it will probably be fine in z7. Whether this plant with survive, and importantly perform, in zones lower than z7 depends entirely on the gardener making effective use of microclimates. It’s worth a go!
Rhododendron yuefengense is still fairly new into cultivation, but has certainly caused a stir! As it becomes more available so, hopefully, it will become a more commonly seen, and enjoyed, plant in collections.