Miniature rhododendrons: Not dwarf, but compact

In the spring rhododendrons and azaleas are the most beautiful flowering shrubs in the garden. It is less well known that there are also very attractive and abundantly flowering dwarf varieties of these plants that can be cultivated in the long time in a container. They are joined by more evergreens like Pieris and attractive dwarf conifers.

by specialist journalist Katharina Adams

Very compact: Rhododendron ‘Centennial Gold’. Photo: Plantipp

In full bloom
When the rhododendrons in the parks and gardens are in full bloom, so that the branches and leaves are hardly visible, they are sure to attract the unrivalled attention and admiration of passers-by. Large-flowered hybrids are particularly well known for their lush display of blooms in numerous shades and combination. Small or dwarf varieties are more suitable for owners of balconies and terraces and the range of available plants in this sector is greater than most people realise. It is primarily the selections from some wild forms that are suitable for this kind of use.

The blues: impeditum and russatum rhododendrons
A good example of one of these is Rhododendron impeditum, an evergreen dwarf shrub with dense leaves that grows into a wide cushion shape and does not grow higher than 40 cm, even after ten years. In May this variety will thrill you with numerous violet flowers so that it truly turns into a ‘flower cushion’. The ‘Luisella’ variety is even more compact and its flowers also have a touch of light pink. The varieties ‘Maggie’ and ‘Ronny’ are bright blue and bloom two weeks earlier than the first two.

The flowers of Rhododendron russatum are also bright blue and ‘Compactum’ deserves a special mention here. These wonderful blue flowers appear from April onwards while Rhododendron calostrotum ‘Enrico’ only opens its buds from the middle of May, when the flowers change from blue to an intense purple. A series of pots with a mixture of early and late blooming varieties will therefore ensure a bright blue display from the middle of April until the end of May.

Rhododendrons in the colours of the rainbow
Rhododendron keleticum flowers are a soft, light violet while Rhododendron keiskei has light pink blooms. The ‘Wee Bee’ variety is a real midget, only growing to 20 centimetres, even after many years, and forming a dense cushion. Rhododendron ludlowii brings us the first yellow flowers in dwarf rhododendrons and Rhododendron repens has several varieties with intensely red flowers.

If you look at the small, bell-shaped flowers of Rhododendron campylogynum they look more like slightly weighty heather at first glance. But if you remember that rhododendrons belong to the heather family then this similarity is less surprising. A lovely range of varieties is produced particularly for specialist retailers under the brand name ‘Lilly Bell’. It includes sturdy plants in a decorative three-litre pot with a matching label.

All the species and varieties named above are at least sufficiently resistant to the winter cold but should be given frost protection around the pot in the winter because the root ball can freeze otherwise. Specialist rhododendron earth has proven its worth as a substrate in the container as it fulfils the requirements of these shrubs with its low pH value and high water binding capacity.

Not dwarf, but compact
Alongside the pronounced dwarf forms other compact species can also be cultivated in containers, at least for a few years. Some suitable plants are, for example, the very abundantly flowering selections and hybrids of the Rhododendrons yakushimanum and williamsianum, such as ‘Centennial Gold’ with its soft yellow flowers, ‘Romika’ with white flowers with a deep pink edging or ‘Schneekissen’, which develops white flowers from light pink buds and also appeals to us with its attractive felty-white leaf shoots. Most of the varieties in this group will not grow higher than 80 centimetres, even after ten years.

Beside the ‘real’ rhododendrons deciduous Azaleas are also a feast for the eyes in containers. Many varieties have wonderfully vibrant and often bright coloured flowers in yellow, orange or bright pink. They get us excited for spring and are real eye-catchers at the POS. Small forms such as ‘Amerson Little Gem’ (orange), ‘Csardas’ (yellow) or ‘Stefanie’ (light pink) can certainly be cultivated in a container for many years.

Not only partners in the flowerbed
Small rhododendrons combine well with other evergreens, for example with Pieris japonica, which also blooms in the spring and also belongs to the Ericaceae family and has the same requirements when it comes to soil and location.

They are very attractive when grouped with coordinated containers in different sizes, allowing a staggered arrangement like in a flowerbed. Pieris is available in white, light pink and also red-flowering varieties and there are also forms with variegated leaves. The compact variety ‘Little Frost’ is very lovely with its narrow, white leaf edging. The red or rust brown leaf shoots on almost all varieties are also very appealing. Pieris can stay in containers for many years because of their slow growth.

All species of dwarf conifers are also perfect partners, whereby highly coloured forms are best avoided because they are too distracting. Small spruces, firs or pines, however, either tall or spherical, are always a great choice. A waterfall-like Weymouth pine (Pinus strobus ‘Niagara Falls’) is new to the range and is well suited for placement in the foreground, where it can grow elegantly over the edge of the container.

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