“What a pretty flower, I’ve never seen one like it; there’s no one like you, Oriane, for having such marvellous things in your house,” said the Princess de Parme, who, fearing the General de Monserfeuil might have overheard the Duchess, sought now to change to the conversation. I looked and recognized a plant of the sort that I had watched Elstir painting. “I am so glad that you like them; they are charming, do look at their little purple velvet collars; the only thing against them is – as may happen to people who are very pretty and nicely dressed – they have a hideous name and a horrid smell. In spite of which I am very proud of them. But what is rather sad is that they are dying.”
Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past (The Guermantes Way, 1920).
While some plants put down huge, deep root systems, rhododendrons are surface rooting. This means they have a large, fibrous root system close to the surface which makes them relatively easy to move. This plant is getting on for twenty years old. Its root system is over a metre across but only 20 to 30cm deep. It has been moved on a large piece of weedmat to keep the roots and dirt intact. We will prune the top after replanting to compensate for the stress and shock, reducing it by at least 25%. Because it is going into a sheltered position, it should not need staking but it would if it was going into the open because it will take a year or two to anchor itself securely again. Mulching it with compost after planting will protect the roots from drying out and give a gentle feed to the plant.
Now is the time to move large plants so they can settle in before summer. Plants with a tap root – a strong central root which goes straight down into the ground – are usually impossible to move successfully unless they are wrenched well in advance.
First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.