Container Gardening with 'Rose Elf'
I have a smallish garden, but want to grow every Rhododendron I can since there isn't one I actually dislike. To reconcile lack of space with my acquisitive nature, I grow lots of things in pots. Right now, Rhododendron 'Rose Elf' is in full bloom and it's such a sweetie. It's about 2 feet tall by 18 inches wide and the silly plant is literally covered in pale pinkish/lavender flowers. The advantage to having containers is that as plants come into peak bloom, I can move them into prime viewing areas on the patio and deck. So, right now, 'Rose Elf' is beside the front door getting admiring glances from all my neighbours. Fortunately, I have a safe neighbourhood, and I'm not worried about plant thieves.
I was first introduced to 'Rose Elf' at a rock and alpine show - someone had entered it into the dwarf companion shrub class. Isn't it funny to think of Rhododendrons as companion plants? Rock gardeners like this variety because of its small scale and well-behaved growing habit. And locally, 'Rose Elf' tolerates full sun exposure.
I've had my plant for about 15 years, and in that time, it's gone from a rooted cutting in a 4 inch pot to its current home in a 2 gallon container. Over the years, I've obviously potted it on, gradually moving up the pot size as the plant grew. I don't have an exact potting mix that I use every time, but typically, I mix well-crumbled peat moss, perlite and some fine bark mulch together as a starting point. Lately, I've been adding some Sea Soil (this is a commercial composted bark mulch and fish waste product), and then, if it's handy, I mix in some sharp, coarse sand and even some garden soil. I don't use exact measurements, but, more or less, I use equal parts by volume of the various ingredients. I'm after a potting mix that holds some moisture, has good aeration, is dense enough to hold the plant in place and is on the acid side. I don't worry about nutrients in the actual potting mix because I use slow-release fertilizers like Osmocote or Nutricote on a regular basis. I top-dress my containers with fine bark mulch or on occasion, with pretty agates from my beach combing trips. It looks nice, but more importantly, it helps prevent the soil mix from getting too compacted when I water or from heavy rain.
The major issue for my pots is watering in the summer. There are times when I need to water on a daily basis, and that's o.k. with me, but to cut down on watering as much as possible, I move my pots to shady locations for the summer. They get tucked under my apple trees, lined up under the eaves on the north side of the garage and I have an old patio umbrella that I set up to shade some of the larger containers. It's amazing how the plants seem to thrive and just a bit of shade has cut my watering by about a third. When I want to be away, I hire my neighbour's son to come and water. I'll make a gardener out of that young man yet!