Tag Archives: rhododendron seed

To deadhead or not to deadhead, that is the question

“Felix’s legacy”, as we say

I asked Mark what the name of this very pink, frothy rhododendron was and he replied, “Felix’s legacy”. Lower case on legacy because it was never named or released. What is interesting about it, aside from its close resemblance to what we call candy floss in this country (fairy floss in many countries – spun sugar), is that if you look at it closely, it has no stamens and it appears to be fully sterile. This means that it does not set seed and the blooms die off more gracefully, while the display looks very clean when in bloom. A plant showing this type of sterility is often described as a mule.

This raises the question about deadheading. The common wisdom amongst keen gardeners is that all rhododendrons need deadheading. In fact, they don’t. They just look a whole lot better for it. Because we have so many, we have only ever targeted the most critical plants to deadhead, which means the ones that set copious amounts of seed. Excessive seed setting can affect future flowering because it takes a lot of energy for plants to set seed.

Nuttallii seed from a plant we missed deadheading last year

Some of the nuttallii types particularly benefit from deadheading. Over time, they are inclined to die back or even die off as a result of their seed setting because it can weaken the plant. When the plant sets a whole lot of seed, it usually inhibits new growth on that branch. It takes a lot of energy for plants to set seed.

Lems Cameo

I mentioned last week about all the cold climate, American hybrids we tried out that didn’t like our conditions. In its day, ‘Lems Cameo’ was the most desired hybrid of all – but difficult to produce commercially because it needed to be grafted to grow strongly. I was surprised to come across it still alive in our park. My, I thought, doesn’t it display its flowers well when it has next to no foliage left at all!!! It is not a plant of great beauty when not in bloom.

Finally, this exhumed pile of wire and netting is a salutary comment on the longevity of synthetics. I found it when I was digging a hole in a bank to plant clivias. The netting must have been buried over four decades. It pre-dates Mark’s return to the property in 1980. His father did not believe in taking anything to the dump. While it can be ripped now, it is not decomposing. We are now trying to lead a life shunning as many plastics and synthetics as we can but there are decades of waste clocked up by pretty much each and every one of us, already NOT breaking down in the environment.

 

Garden lore

It is obvious that close planting [of shrubs] gives a furnished look to a border almost immediately, equally obvious that it is wasteful and expensive.

The Well-Tempered Garden by Christopher Lloyd (1973).

Dead heading rhododendrons

The usual advice is to dead head all rhododendrons. In fact, while they all look a great deal better for dead heading, it is really only necessary to do the ones that set seed. You will be able to tell by looking, if you didn’t do them last year, because they will have spent pods similar (but almost certainly smaller) to the ones shown in the photo. Some rhododendrons can set so much seed that they weaken themselves and eventually die. My neighbour swears by coating his fingers in olive oil before he goes out to dead head. It stops the gunky residue from making your hands sticky.