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A dwarf rhododendron is a smaller version of the typical rhododendron and well suited for growing in smaller gardens or pots. The term “dwarf” can be misleading, however. A rhododendron can grow up to seven feet (2 m) tall and still be a dwarf variety. Meanwhile, most gardeners expect a dwarf plant to be only one foot to two feet (about 3 cm) tall. So it is important when shopping for a dwarf rhododendron to read the tags and literature of each plant to be sure it is the right size for the space as well as the proper hardiness for the climate in which it will be grown.
In most aspects, a dwarf rhododendron requires the same planting conditions and care as a full size rhododendron. It thrives best in an acidic, well-draining soil and usually prefers an area that receives a good amount of shade each day. Kits to test a soil’s acidity are available at garden centers. Many universities and agricultural extension offices will test soil as well. If the soil is not the proper acidity for the chosen rhododendron variety, the garden center can recommend additives to improve the acidity.
After planting, consistent daily watering will ensure that the plant’s roots remain moist at all times, but not soggy, for roots that are either too dry or too wet can kill the plant. Rhododendrons typically need protection from wind and frost, especially after blooming. A dwarf rhododendron has some natural protection from wind and cold temperatures as it is closer to the ground. Planting several dwarf rhododendrons near each other provides mutual protection, as well as larger blocks of color if the varieties are chosen to bloom at the same time of the growing season.
Most dwarf rhododendrons need fertilizer to bloom or to bloom more extensively. The plant’s accompanying tag may identify the best fertilizer for it, and garden centers usually sell a fertilizer recommended for rhododendrons. Many growers recommend fertilizing twice during the growing season: first in early spring and again in mid-summer.
Pruning of a dwarf rhododendron is normally not necessary. Like all rhododendrons, the dwarf varieties are slow growers that may take 10 years to reach their typical height. With the dwarf rhododendron remaining fairly short for most of its growth, they are not likely to have large growth areas to prune. Removing dead flowers and leaves is normally all that is necessary to maintain the plant’s beauty.