Deadheading rhodies and a couple of new groovy plants

  • Steve Smith, Sunnyside Nursery
  • Monday, May 21, 2012 10:31pm
  • Local News

Look around the neighborhood in mid to late May and you will see some of the most glorious rhodies ever created by horticulturists. Just to the north of the nursery is a home resplendent with pink and red rhodies and even oranges from deciduous azaleas. Immediately to my south is a home with a Cynthia rhodie that is taller than the ridge of the house. (Check out my Facebook page for a picture of it.) While May is clearly high season for rhodies and deciduous azaleas, in just a few weeks the glory will have faded and the sticky task of deadheading will begin. If only there was a way to skip this chore.

Well, I am here to tell you that you don’t need to deadhead your rhodies if you don’t want to. The rhodie will be just fine but you may be faced with looking at brown flowers and even less attractive seed pods for the rest of the summer. Probably the best reason to deadhead is that it gives us a chance to shape our plants and keep them in bounds, especially when we have planted them in the wrong spot and they keep obliterating the living room window.

Just under the flower trusses of a rhodie lie the new shoots for the season and they will usually begin to elongate about the same time the flowers fade. If we prick off the dominant shoot then several others will then begin to grow resulting in a more compact and bushy plant. In commercial rhodie fields they actually do this by walking down the rows swinging a stick back and forth and unceremoniously knocking off these new shoots. It is an indelicate technique that probably shouldn’t be emulated in our own gardens. We can afford to be more precise and pick and choose which shoots to leave and which to eliminate. If you don’t like getting your fingers all sticky and black, then don a pair of disposable nitrile gloves and just chuck them when you are finished.

Groovy Plant Department

I received two new introductions last week from Monrovia Growers that are real wowzers. The first is a Japanese Anemone called ‘Wild Swan’. Normally these anemones bloom only in the fall and are bit on the extrovert side in terms of spreading. But Wild Swan is a hybrid that actually blooms from May to November and supposedly is well behaved. It was the winner of the 2011 Chelsea Flower Show Plant of the Year, which is pretty darn special. Plant it in some afternoon shade and give it a humus-rich soil and enjoy the white flowers with blue backs for 7 whole months.

The other plant is a Kiwi vine called Rosy Crabapple. It is a hardy male kiwi (hence no fruit but a good source of pollen) that sports small pink flowers in May and elongated heart shaped leaves that look as though they have been dipped in white paint. It is truly striking and is a wonderful climber for a semi-shaded space. Give it a substantial arbor or trellis and plant it next to a female hardy kiwi if you want fruit.

Classes: this week’s class at the nursery is on growing warm season veggies like tomatoes, beans, egg plant, basil, squash and peppers. Be here at 10 a.m. on Saturday for a lively discussion by Andy and Mary Ann Sudkamp, veggie growers par excellance.

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. Send your questions and/or pictures to

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