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On Gardening: Dandy Man Color Wheel brings about the rhododendron happy dance

Norman Winter, Tribune News Service on

Published in Gardening News

Dandy Man Color Wheel is bringing out the rhododendron happy dance from the North to the South, and you will want to act quickly to get in on the party. Those of us who treasure azaleas have been green with envy of those in the Appalachian area and northward for their ability to grow rhododendrons.

Shoot rhododendrons are even native to North Georgia and create postcard-like beauty in the mountainous scenic parkways and drape over the nation’s best trout streams. What is wrong with us; why did we get left out?

Three years ago, The Garden Guy’s eyes were opened to southern possibilities when I discovered the Rhododendron Trail at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia. Callaway is about 25 miles from my house and has one of the best azalea collections in the country. Of course, azaleas are rhododendrons, botanically speaking. It is the real rhododendrons, however, that all Southern azalea lovers dream about thriving in the garden.

The Rhododendron Trail at Callaway is a testament of time, as these rhodies have been there for years and have stories to tell. The real message is clear, though: They are old and still beautiful. If you are thinking this is a mountain like North Georgia and the Blue Ridge area, the answer is no. It is a wonderful scenic destination.

Three years ago also marks the point in time that I started growing Dandy Man Color Wheel rhododendron from Proven Winners. When it comes to rhododendrons, I am always the hopeful skeptic. When I got mine, they started blooming before I could plant them. My bride, Jan, was so struck by their beauty she said these would go as a centerpiece on the table for a few days. No argument from me, for a host of reasons.

Dandy Man Color Wheel has the potential to get 4 to 8 feet tall and just as wide. Being a skeptic, I might not have given them enough room for their companions. If they keep performing like they have been, it will soon be goodbye, companions.

The buds start out lipstick red, which I promise you gets the heart pumping with excitement. These open to big ruffled blooms with deep pink undersides and soft pink shades inside. The blooms then age to clear white before falling off. Now you can see the reason Jan wanted these plants for a centerpiece. As the blooms go through their aging progression, you will see all three colors at once.

 

The color description probably has you already chomping to get some, but know these are very disease-resistant, saying no to phytophthora, but equally impressive is the heat tolerance. Yes, Virginia, we can grow rhododendrons in the South. In fact, these are recommended for zones 5-9.

Like azaleas, the other rhododendron species, Dandy Man Color Wheel needs fertile, organic rich, well-drained, acidic soil. My location is on the side of a gentle slope that has collected falling leaves for decades. It is very fertile and gets very little direct sun. I am layering the area down the slope with azaleas, hydrangeas and hostas. The leathery evergreen foliage of Dandy Man Color Wheels stands out in the crowd, if you will, by giving a welcoming contrast of texture with all the companion plants.

My sincerest hope is the Dandy Man Color Wheel breeders will be introducing some siblings we can all add to our collections. In the meantime, as growing year four starts in a few short weeks, you may just see me doing the happy dance, as I will be celebrating my beautiful rhododendrons.

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(Norman Winter, horticulturist, garden speaker and author of “Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South” and “Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden.” Follow him on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy.)

(NOTE TO EDITORS: Norman Winter receives complimentary plants to review from the companies he covers.)

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