The Southgate Rhododendrons were developed to survive the hot and humid gardens of the Deep South. Rhododendrons are mountain plants, and many gardeners who live in the Piedmont and Coastal Plain have the idea to grow rhododendrons in their own landscape. The garden centers contribute by filling their aisles with thousands of rhododendrons each spring.
The problem is rhododendrons are adapted to a different world than the backyard gardens of people who do not live in the Appalachian mountains. The Southgate rhododendrons are marketed as the answer. Brandi is the first in our test garden.
Southgate Rhododendron Brandi's flowers are superb
We bought three plants for the test garden. While the point is to evaluate the survivability of the Southgate rhododendrons mid- and long-term, people do grow rhododendrons for their flowers. Only seeing pictures of Brandi's blooms, I was deeply suspicious. I am cool towards two-toned flowers and images of Brandi were bright vibrant magenta.
Happily, Brandi's flowers are stunning. Dark intensely pink buds open to soft pink flowers edged darker. The flowers glow, but softly.
More about Southgate Rhododendrons
Rhododendrons grow well if their specific cultural needs are met. These needs include fast draining soil that is moist and cool nightly temperatures. The cool temperatures at night are especially important, as many of the diseases that plague rhododendrons are kept at bay by a nightly interruption to their life cycle...the cooler temperatures protect the rhododendrons.
Southgate rhododendrons were developed to be heat tolerant by Dr. John Thornton, an azalea and rhododendron expert from Louisiana. Anyone who has spent a summer day in New Orleans knows there is no heat and humidity like it.
The Southgate rhododendron Brandi reputedly grows 3'-4' tall and wide. The plants in our collection are already this size and they are relatively young plants. I will be interested to see how large they actually become.
How have our Southgate rhododendrons faired so far?
After a fall and a winter, all three Brandi rhododendrons are doing beautifully. The real test for rhododendrons is their health over time, but so far so good. The summer lies in wait.
All plants are being grown in pots at present. A sample will be planted for evaluation at a later date.
Growing Rhododendrons successfully
The Southgate rhododendrons are rated as hardy zones 6-9.
I favor short, to-the-point descriptions of cultural needs: Soil must be well-drained and rich. Acidic soil is a must. Under no circumstances should rhododendrons be planted deeply; raised beds are preferred. I plant rhododendrons and azaleas in shallow holes 1"-3" above existing grade. Mulch well. Avoid late afternoon or night time watering from overhead...avoid moisture on the leaves at night.
Morning sun and afternoon shade are strongly preferred. I have neighbors with rhododendrons in heavily shaded areas; the plants survive but they do not bloom. Finding a balance of light and protection from harsh afternoon sun is a bit of an art.
The American Rhododendron Society has more information about growing rhododendrons in the garden.
Notice that much advice about growing rhododendrons focuses on what not to do. Cautionary tales abound. If you do not live in the mountains, growing rhododendrons is a gamble. Perhaps the Southgate rhododendrons will change the odds in your favor.