Enjoy those blooms! There’s a reason the rhododendron is Washington’s state flower

·4 min read

The third week of May reminds us that rhododendrons and azaleas love our Western Washington climate, so this is a good time of year to visit a nursery and pick out a beautiful blooming shrub.

Besides just the rhododendron family, there are spiraeas, deutzia and weigela that will flower in the spring, provide foliage all summer and adapt to our weather without much care once they are planted and established.

Prune rhododendrons only if needed right after they are done flowering, and dead head or remove the faded blooms from any shrub if you have the time. Don’t worry. Your shrubs will still flower next year if you don’t prune and you don’t deadhead.

Q. What is making the bite marks in the leaves of my rhododendron and Pieris japonica? They look like notches on the edges of the leaves. I checked and can see no insects and I have baited for slugs but really this is in a part of the garden that has never had slugs. Please help. — P.M., Tacoma

A. Help is as close as your hand pruners. Notches on leaf margins is a sure sign of root weevils and this dull black beetle hides in the soil during the day then uses low-hanging branches to climb into the shrub at night to feed on foliage of specific plants.

Prune the lowest hanging branches now and scrape back the mulch around the base of the shrubs, exposing the damp soil and attracting birds to the area. You also can try drenching the soil with beneficial nematodes that will feed on the evil weevil.

A more practical solution may be to plant rhododendrons that leave a bad taste in the mouth of beetles. Rhodies with furry leaves such as the Yakushimanum varieties (just ask for the yaks) and the early-flowering PJM rhodies with small blue-gray leaves are more weevil resistant. There is also the classic white rhododendron called “Dora Amateis” that is so tough no weevil wants to take a nibble.

This is the time of year that azaleas bloom, and they are sometimes confused with rhododendrons. Azaleas have tubular or funnel-shaped flowers, while rhody flowers tend to be bell-shaped. Azaleas also have just one flower per stem but the shrub produces so many stems that the shrub appears covered in blossoms. Rhododendron flowers grow in round clusters at the ends of branches.
This is the time of year that azaleas bloom, and they are sometimes confused with rhododendrons. Azaleas have tubular or funnel-shaped flowers, while rhody flowers tend to be bell-shaped. Azaleas also have just one flower per stem but the shrub produces so many stems that the shrub appears covered in blossoms. Rhododendron flowers grow in round clusters at the ends of branches.

Q. I have a very hot flowerbed next to the house and surrounded by a driveway. It gets full sun all day. What flowers would not wilt if we have another heat dome episode this summer? Please don’t say geraniums and marigolds. I am looking for something different. — T.P., Enumclaw

A. Head thee to the nursery and get this sun-drenched bed planted now so the plants can establish a good root system before any torrid weather.

I have warmed to the idea of using more lantana in the garden as the newer varieties from Proven Winners come in more color options than just yellow. Look for “Lucious Marmalade” lantana with hits of orange and the very heat tolerant euphorbia “Diamond Snow” that looks like a bouquet of white baby’s breath.

Cuphea is another new and unusual looking annual with candy corn-colored, tube-shaped blooms that attract pollinators. A new cuphea variety called “Vermillionair” cuphea will add fire-cracker color to boring beds.

Finally add a hit of silver foliage for contrast to the hot colors. Easy to grow Dusty Miller or the trailing spiller “Silver Falls” dichondra have foliage so silver they shimmer in the sun. All of these heat lovers are from Proven Winners so you should be able to find them at local nurseries.

Q. I love the tropical look of coleus but they seem to die on me every spring shortly after planting. The leaves just go limp and fall off. My spouse insists this is because I have them in the sun and coleus love the shade. Your opinion? — W.T, Buckley

A. Coleus with their colorful leaves are that rare annual plant that will do well in sun or shade. What really makes them have a meltdown are cold night temperatures.

I like to buy coleus plants as soon as I see them at nurseries because all the best colors seem to sell out quickly. Then enjoy them as houseplants the entire month of May. Once the night temps are no longer dipping below 45 degrees, you can move your heat-loving coleus plants outdoors.

The new series of coleus called “Colorblaze” are not only more mildew resistant but have been bred to flower very late or not all. This is important because once a coleus blooms, the fantastic foliage production begins to fade. Nip the spikes of coleus blooms from the tops of coleus plants as soon as they appear and you’ll have that tropical look right up until the first fall frost.

Tip: you can take cuttings of any coleus plant and root the stems in water to enjoy coleus as houseplants over the winter.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.

If you see notches on the leaves of your Pieris japonica, it’s likely a sign of root weevils, which hide in the soil during the day then use low-hanging branches to climb into the shrub at night to feed on foliage.
If you see notches on the leaves of your Pieris japonica, it’s likely a sign of root weevils, which hide in the soil during the day then use low-hanging branches to climb into the shrub at night to feed on foliage.
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