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What is a Dwarf Rhododendron?

By Barbara Bean-Mellinger
Updated: May 16, 2024

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.

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Discussion Comments
By honeybees — On Aug 06, 2011

One of my friends has a rock garden in the front of her house and this area full of rhododendron plants. When they are in bloom in the spring, it is a spectacular sight.

I liked them so much that I decided to plant some in my yard. I was looking for a nice accent plant right beside my front door. I didn't want this to get very tall, so bought a dwarf rhododendron.

It is so cute and had quite a few more blooms the second year I had it. It really doesn't look like it has grown at all in the two years that I have had it. The tag says it should be about 4-5 feet tall at maturity, but it has a long ways to go.

By Mykol — On Aug 05, 2011

The only thing I don't like about rhododendrons is that their beautiful blooms don't last nearly long enough. It seems like they are in full bloom for only a short time.

There are many things I love about these plants though. Not only are the purple blooms beautiful, but the plant has interesting green leaves that look good in a flower garden no matter what time of the year.

They are also very easy to maintain and don't require much pruning or dead heading. This is especially true with the dwarf varieties. I just water, fertilize and enjoy.

By SarahSon — On Aug 04, 2011

I have always loved rhododendrons. I have two of them planted in front of my house, and they are a very welcome sign of spring. They are one of the earliest blooming plants I have, and I love the small purple flowers they produce.

My plants are not dwarf rhododendrons, but they are only 2 feet tall and have been there for 4 years. I know they are slow growing, but I think one of the reasons is because they don't get enough shade.

The spot I have them in gets sun most of the day, and they would probably do better in a spot that receives a little bit more shade.

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