I love Rhododendrons and Azaleas and include them in many gardens that I design and install. Frequently a client will tell me that they've given up on trying to grow them. That's when I introduce Mr. and Mrs. Rhododendron : PJM ( Mr. ) and Olga Mezitt ( Mrs. ) two outstanding winter hardy varieties for Zone 4 and 5 . PJM is the namesake of its developer Peter J. Mezitt and Olga is named for his wife. I wish I had a husband that would immortilize me like that. I'm proud to say that I discovered Olga way before it became popular. It was an " end of the sea-
son " sale at Gethsemane Garden Center and I adopted the not so good lookin' Olga for $15 bucks. She didn't look like much for the first two years but " baby, look at me now ! " I had neighbors calling me and asking what that large pink shrub was in my garden. They couldn't believe it was a Rhododendron.
The PJM has been around for quite a while - it's the intense lavender Rhodo you see in late April in Chicagoland. You will notice from the photo above that Olga's color is a soft pink , rare in early blooming Rhododendrons. These two Rhododendrons are very popular with garden and landscape designers because they know not only are they gorgeous in full bloom, evergreen year-round, but are proven performers.
In addition to Olga and PJM's beautiful blooms, it's foilage turns a wonderful purple bronze in the Fall. My Olga is planted next to a path and when I brush by her the intense herbal scent of her leaves fill the air.
When planting Rhodos and Azaleas the most important thing you can do is to properly prepare the soil, which must be able to drain well. These are acid-lovers so be generous in adding compost, manure, peatmoss or Black Forest soil conditioner. Don't think you can just plop it in the ground and then give it a dose of Miracid.
If properly planted in fertile soil, Rhodos and Azaleas require little attention, including fertilization. In twenty years I have never once fertilized Olga because I planted it with the utmost consideration of her needs. This is the most important thing you can do for your Rhodo or Azalea : supply it with the acidity it loves and that means incorporating a lot of organic matter - compost, manure, Black Forest soil conditioner or peat moss at the time of planting. Don't think you can just plop it in the ground and then feed it with Miracid ( a Miraclegro product ) because it won't work. Make sure the soil is well drained because Rhodos don't like wet feet. Olga likes a little light pruning ( immediately after it blooms ) for the first 4 or 5 years.
If you feel you must fertilize, make sure you don't do it after late June or tender new growth could be winter damaged. If you see mineral deficiencies ( yellowing of the leaves ) then apply an organic fertilizer made for acid-loving plants around the base in late Fall or early Spring.
I'm hoping to see more of Mr. and Mrs. Rhododendron in Chicago gardens.