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21 Different Types of Rhododendron for Your Garden

Collage photo of Rhododendrons flowers in different colors.

Quicklist: Types of Rhododendrons

  1. Alpine Rose Rhododendron
  2. Black Satin Rhododendron
  3. Blue Peter Rhododendron
  4. Boule de Neige Rhododendron
  5. ‘Bow Bells’ Rhododendron
  6. Daurian Rhododendron
  7. Elviira Rhododendron
  8. Forrestii Rhododendron
  9. Fortune’s Rhododendron
  10. Golden Oriole Azalea
  11. Japanese Azalea
  12. Nova Zembla Rhododendron
  13. Russatum Rhododendron
  14. Satsuki Azalea
  15. Simsii Azalea
  16. Small-Leaved Rhododendron
  17. Tree Rhododendron
  18. White Angel Rhododendron
  19. Windsong Rhododendron
  20. Wardii Rhododendron
  21. Yakushimanum Rhododendron

The name “rhododendron” comes from the Greek words, “rodon” which means “rose,” and “dendron” signifying “tree.” Rose Tree. The plant belongs to the botanical family Ericacea and the genus Rhododendron. Azaleas are considered a subspecies of rhododendrons.

The widest variety of the plant, including some of its most beautiful species, are native to Asia. They are also found in temperate regions of Asia, Europe and North America. 

Flowering rhododendrons have strikingly beautiful and vibrant colors. There are over 1,000 wild species, and more than 14,000 hybrids, with flowers blooming during the colder months, from late winters to early summers.

They are the ideal evergreen flower species for a winter landscape. Months of March, April and May are peak seasons for flowering. However, some species may flower as early as January while others flower as late as August, depending upon climate suitability.

There are several types of rhododendrons, including evergreen shrubs, deciduous shrubs and evergreen trees, with some of the latter reaching more than 100 feet in height. Different species can grow from sea level up to 16,000 feet in elevation.

Related: Types of Flowers by Alphabet

History of Rhododendrons

Fossils establish that rhododendrons have been in existence for at least 50 million years. They were probably more evenly spread around the globe than they are now.

The DNA of most species today originate in the river valleys of the Himalayas and Tibet, with pockets found in the archipelago “stretching between mainland Asia and Australia — the islands of Java, Sumatra, Borneo, New Guinea, and the Philippines,” as well as isolated regions of Japan, northwestern North America, the Appalachian and Caucasus Mountains.

Rhododendrons as a distinct species were first studied by Flemish botanist, Charles l’Ecluse in the 17th century. Alpine Rose (Rhododendron histrum), an evergreen dwarf shrub from the European Alps, was first introduced to Britain in 1656.

Hybrids of Rhododendron indicum and Rhododendron tamurae were already being cultivated in Japan by the 17th century. A Brocade Pillow, published in 1692, describes the classification of color patterns of hybridized satsuki azaleas, a cultivar of Rhododendron indicum.

A partnership between Pennsylvania botanist John Bartram and English Quaker Peter Collinson began the cultivation of rhododendrons in America.

Photo of Spring Flowering Great Chinese Rhododendron Sinogrande

Rhododendron Sinogrande features leaves that can grow between two and three feet in length.

Different Types of Rhododendrons

There are three main types of rhododendrons:

Evergreen Shrubs

Evergreen shrubs are smaller than trees in size and blossom all year long. They provide year-round greenery to the landscape.

Deciduous Shrubs

Deciduous shrubs shed their leaves once a year in the fall. Most azalea species are deciduous.

Evergreen Trees

Evergreen trees remain green throughout the year and do not shed their leaves like deciduous shrubs.

Rhododendron Varieties

Rhododendrons are a diverse group of flowering plants. The genus includes more than 1,000 species which are subdivided into numerous subgenera.

The leaves of the genus are arranged spirally and vary in shapes and sizes, ranging from two centimeters to the massive (50 to 100-centimeter) appendages of the Rhododendron sinogrande.

Below you will find:

  • All types of rhododendrons
  • Rhododendron names
  • Rhododendron species
  • Rhododendron pictures

Alpine Rose Rhododendron

Purple Dwarf Alpine Rose.

The dwarf Alpine Rose (Rhododendron hirsutum) is an evergreen flowering shrub. Native to the central and eastern Alps, in North America, the Alpine Rose also grows in New England and along the coast in the Pacific Northwest. The plant can survive in snowy and extremely cold conditions.

Noteworthy:

  • First species of rhododendron cultivated in Europe (1656)

Black Satin Rhododendron

Pink Rhododendron Nova Black Satin flowers

Black Satin is an evergreen, semi-erect rhododendon shrub with shiny coal-black winter foliage.

They are small plants that can grow to a height of three to six feet and do best in well-drained, evenly moist, acidic soil. The flowers are bell-shaped, deep rose pink in color. The leaves are small and dense.

The suitable landscape applications of this variety are:

  • Winter garden
  • Woodland setting

Blue Peter Rhododendron

Voilet blue colored Rhododendron Blue Peter flower

Blue Peter can be either evergreen or deciduous. Its leaves are simple with colorful, dense hair on the lower side. Erect in habit, it is best grown in moist but well-drained, humus rich, acidic soil. Blue Peter is sun and heat tolerant as well as cold hardy.

The flowers are violet-blue colored, tubular, bell-shaped or funnel-shaped. The leaves are large and mid-green in color. The bushy shrubs can grow up to 10 feet in height.

The suitable landscape applications of this variety are:

  • Hedging and Screens
  • Cottage garden

Boule de Neige Rhododendron

 White Rhododendron Boule de neige flowers

Boule de Neige is an evergreen, broadleaf, dense, round shrub. It has a wide but upright habit and can grow up to 13 feet in height. A slow-growing species, it does best in loamy and acidic soil. The plant is classified as USDA hardiness zone 6a.

Boule de Neige buds are pink in color, but bloom to white flowers. The flowers are funnel-shaped and are six centimeters wide with yellow or brown colored flecks on the upper lobe. Their leaves are light green, elliptic to obovate and are usually two inches wide and four inches long.

The suitable landscape applications of this variety are:

  • Parks
  • Squares
  • Tree containers
  • Theme parks
  • Cemeteries
  • Roof gardens
  • Large and small gardens
  • Patio garden

‘Bow Bells’ Rhododendron

Rhododendron pink flowers, buds and leaves

‘Bow Bells’ is an extremely slow-growing evergreen shrub, extending up to three feet in 10 years. They grow best in humus rich, leafy, acidic soil, in part shade. The plant is classified under USDA zone 4.

Their leaves are medium-sized, two inches long and have dense, colorful hair on the lower side. The buds are bright pink in color but once open, the flowers are a pale pink and about three inches in length.

The suitable landscape applications of this variety are:

  • Hedging and Screens
  • Cottage garden

Daurian Rhododendron

Purple Daurian Rhododendron.

The Daurian rhododendron  (R. dauricum) is pink and violet-tinted with one to one and a half inch long petals. Each flower of this evergreen blooms early in March and April, surrounded by silver leaves.

The Missouri Botanical Garden says that, “this rhododendron was reportedly first collected in Dauria, a mountainous region in southeastern Siberia east of Lake Baikal, hence the specific epithet and common name.”

Elviira Rhododendron

 Rhododendron Elviira fresh flowers

Rhododendron Elviira, an evergreen, broadleaf shrub, features cherry red flowers in spring. It contains dark foliage which is quite coarse and has a compact mounded habit.

Elviira must be grown in soil which is well-drained, highly organic and acidic. If the soil is not properly drained, the plant will die out. Its USDA winter hardiness score is 4.

The flowers of Rhododendron Elviira are trumpet-shaped and grow at the end of branches. The flowers are lightly scented, the leaves remain green throughout the winter.

Elviira grows up to 24 inches in height and spreads about 24 inches wide with a low canopy. The plant grows at a slow rate and if the conditions are ideal can live as long as 40 years.

Elviira are low maintenance shrubs. They should be pruned only after flowering so that removal of current season’s flowers can be avoided.

The suitable landscape applications of this variety are:

  • Border Edging
  • Mass Planting
  • Container Planting
  • For general garden use

Forrestii Rhododendron 

Red Dwarf Rhododendron.

Native to Myanmar, Tibet and Yunnan Province in China, the Forrestii grows to reach three feet in height as a dwarf shrub. 

Blooming in April and May, Forrestii flowers have deep crimson-red petals, with white stamens and dark brown anthers, inside a bell-shaped cup. 

Fortune’s Rhododendron 

Purple Fortunes Rhododendron.

One of the taller varieties, Fortune’s rhododendron (R. fortunei) grows up to 10 feet in height, featuring creamy yellow flowers, with crimson specks, blooming in March and April.

Noteworthy:

Golden Oriole Azalea

Yellow Golden Oriole.

The Golden Oriole azalea is a deciduous flowering shrub that can grow to seven feet tall. In early spring its flowers blossom into a unique deep-yellow sunlight color.

Noteworthy:

  • Attracts hummingbirds; plant is toxic to humans and animals
  • 19th century American/Asian hybrid

Japanese Azalea 

Photo of Rhododendron molle subsp. japonicum). Azalea japonica

Japanese Azalea (Azalea japonica) can grow 3 1/2 to 6 1/2 feet tall with a mass of blooming flowers (ranging from pink to red, purple and white) appearing in April and May. 

Nova Zembla Rhododendron

Rhododendron Nova Zembla red flowers by blue fence

Rhododendron Nova Zembla is an evergreen shrub with an upright habit. They can grow up to six to eight feet tall and five to seven feet wide. The most suitable soil type for Nova Zembla is well-drained, moist, rich in humus and acidic. 

The leaves of Nova Zembla are thick and dark green in color. The flowers are produced in round, fairly large trusses

The suitable landscape applications of this variety are:

  • Borders
  • As flowering hedge
  • Foundation plantings
  • Privacy screens

Russatum Rhododendron

Reddish Rhododendron.

The Russatum, aka Reddish rhododendron, is another dwarf species that blooms early with flowering heads opening up in March and April.

According to the Alpine Garden Society, its flowers are “broadly funnel-shaped, deep reddish-purple to deep blue, rarely pink or white, in clusters of up to six.”

Satsuki Azalea

White Azalea Satsuki.

Satsuki (R. indicum) is a late-blooming Azalea japonica varietal, popular with gardeners wanting late-summer blossoms. The semi-evergreen plant is a cross (and back-cross) between two similar species, R. indicum and R. eriocarpum. 

“In Japan R. indicum is known as “Satsuki-tsutsuji,” since the Japanese in their own use do not use the Latin names. Those plants that belong to the Azalea Series are usually called tsutsuji (suit-suit-gee) and other rhododendrons are known as Shakunage (shock-u-nog-ay).” — Harold Greer, “The Satsuki Azaleas.

Noteworthy:

  • Cross. back-crossing history has produced multi-colored flowers
  • Popular in Japan with bonsai enthusiasts, some hundreds of years old

Simsii Azalea

Pink Indoor Azaleas.

Indoor azalea varieties all come from Simsii Rhododendron, native to Hong Kong, southern China, Thailand and Vietnam.

Noteworthy:

  • Plant introduced to Europe in 1810
  • Simsii named after English botanist John Sims
  • Indoor azaleas can bloom between October and May

Small-Leaved Rhododendron 

Pink Small-Leaved Rhododendron.

In the spring, the Small-Leaved rhododendron (R. impeditum) produces tiny purple flowers. By the fall, it is covered in equally small, silver leaves.

The North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox says, the “rhododendron is a woody, compact, slow-growing, broadleaf evergreen shrub or groundcover in the Ericaceae (blueberry) family.”

The plant is native to China. As a dwarf species, Small-leaved rhododendron grow only to a height of one foot with a spread of up to two feet.

Tree Rhododendron

Tree Rhododendron.

The Tree Rhododendron tree (R, arboreum), native to India and southeast Asia, has grown as high as 65 feet but averages around 40 feet, at maturity. Red, pink or white flowers bloom in early or mid-spring.

White Angel Rhododendron

 White Rhododendron White Angel flower

White Angel is an evergreen shrub that has an upright habit. It has an ascending and a compact, vase-shaped crown. These are a smaller species that grow three to six feet tall.

The form this shrub takes is round, and the foliage is somewhat leathery that grows purplish in fall. White Angel is a low maintenance plant and grows best in soil that is part sand, part clay, with an acidic pH. Its USDA winter hardiness score is 4.

The flowers appear in shades of white and purple. They are long lasting and showy. Each flower is 2 to 3 centimeters in diameter. The leaves are initially light green in color, but with time, they turn dark green.

Windsong Rhododendron

Rhododendron Windsong flower with wavy edges

Windsong is an evergreen shrub with an open-growth habit. They are a slow-growing species and can reach up to four feet in 10 years. They do best in well-drained, acidic soil and are cold hardy to zero degrees Fahrenheit.

Windsong leaves have a rounded base and are usually 4.5 inches long in length. The leaves are flat, glossy and olive green in color.

The flowers are funnel-shaped in a light shade of yellowish green with dark, red-colored nectarines. Its flowers are found in a bell-shaped truss that holds 17 flowers.

Wardii Rhododendron

Red Rhododendron wardii.

Oregon State University has done extensive research on the Rhododendron wardii. The flower is named after Francis Kingdom Ward (1885 to 1958) who was an early collector of the plant, as well as a published botany author.

Wardii produces bright lemon or butter yellow flowers. The plant is native to southeast Tibet and China, where Rhododendron wardii shrubs reach a height of four feet after 10 years. The flower itself is smaller, with petals measuring six centimeters long, on average.

Yakushimanum Rhododendron

Pink Yakushimanum.

“R. yakushimanum is a compact, spreading evergreen shrub (featuring) narrow, convex leaves with a buff-felt beneath, and rounded trusses of bell-shaped, pure white flowers, opening from bright pink buds in mid spring,” says the Royal Horticultural Society.

Growing slowly the rhododendron reaches a height of approximately five feet over 20 years. Yakushimanum is native to the mountainous terrain of the southern Japanese island of Kyushu.

Noteworthy:

  • Winter hardy
  • Brought to UK in 1934, hybridized into many varieties

Photo collage of both wild and cultivated rhododendron plants

Planting Rhododendrons

Planting specifications for different types of rhododendrons can vary considerably but there are some basic requirements to consider:

  • The best season to plant rhododendrons is spring or early fall.
  • Most rhododendron varieties require dappled shade which means, neither full sun nor deep shade is suitable. A sunny area where the plants receive a few hours of shade is perfect for these plants.
  • The soil requirements are almost similar for many types of rhododendrons. The most suitable soil is well-drained, acidic soil that is moist enough to prevent the plants from drying out.
  • If the soil in the planting area is poor, compost or a substitute should be added to ensure optimal growth.
  • Root systems are shallow. They require mulch and moisture so that they don’t dry out.
  • When planting, place the plants at a distance of two to five feet from each other. The hole should be as deep as the root ball, and the width should be twice the size of the root ball.
  • Once the hole has been dug, fill half of it with soil and then proceed to add water. Once the soil settles, fill the remaining half of the hole with soil.
  • Every spring, make sure you mulch the plants with about two to five inches of pine needles or pine bark chips so that the shallow roots are protected.
  • If rainfall is less than one inch per week during the summer months, water the plants.
  • Remove dead flowers regularly as new buds are under thes dead flowers.

Best Type of Rhododendron for Various Climates

With over 1,000 wild species and over 14,000 hybrid flowering plants, rhododendrons, and their azalea subspecies, can survive in various climates though as garden plants need special care to thrive.

Vibrant rhododendrons bloom during spring and will remain evergreen through the cold season. You can plant perfect and vibrant colors in your garden in the early months of spring or early fall.

Many rhododendrons bloom in spring and they are a sight to see but they can also stand out in your garden even during winter. A few of these can bloom if you are looking for winter flowering plants:

Humid climate

Plants in hot climates struggle to stay alive because of root rot organisms that stay in the wet soil. Some rhododendrons can thrive in humid climates but must be planted on raised beds and get more organic material from pine barks to repress root rot.

This includes English Roseum, Golden Lights, and Fuschia-pink Karens. Because plant tolerance varies, you should try to find out which small-leaf plants can tolerate humid climates.

Sun and shade

A Rhododendron that grows in sun and shade.

Large-leafed plants do not do well in sunny conditions so planting location should be considered. Areas that offer more morning and late afternoon sun exposure or dappled sun can damage the flowers.

Plant location should have moderate sun exposure and throughout the day dappled shade should be available. Pick a place without too much sun or shade to keep the plants growing.

The best varieties for a sunny climate are Nova Zembla and the P.M.J., while Bow Bells, Elviira, and King George varieties thrive in shady conditions.

Moderate or partial sunshine should range between six to eight hours in the afternoon and the best side to plant may be the northern or eastern side of your home or building.

Winter Climates

Rhododendron Elviira

Elviira thrives in cooler regions and can make it through winter with bright petals and green look.

Rhododendron Black Satin

Rhododendron Black Satin.

Even in winter, the flowers of the Black Satin will brighten a garden with dark purple-black flora. Keep the plant away from direct west or south winds and it will flourish.

Rhododendron Christmas Cheer

These will give you light pink flowers that will fade to white during winter. They can be watered once a week and may grow up to 5 feet.

Rhododendron Dr. Bowman

A rare variety of the rhododendron species, these flowers are perfect bloomers in December and retain dark green foliage throughout the year.

Planting Space

If you are planting a rhododendron remember soil plays a big part in their survival. Garden grounds are essential for your plant but if you want the lovely foliage and bright colors on your patio or somewhere closer to the house you can plant them in a container.

Choose smaller pot-fitting varieties of the specie and pick a container with a lot of drainage holes. Too much wet soil will affect the growth of the plant and may cause root disease and eventually kill the plant. The container should be kept in a cool and moist space where shade is partial.

Types of soils

A hand with gloves planting Rhododendron.

Most Rhododendrons do not do well in limey or alkaline soil while a few can survive but most plants grow best in acidic soils with a pH level between 4.5 and 6.0.

Soils with high levels of calcium are not ideal for the plants either but if you are unsure whether your rhododendrons are suited for the type of soil in your garden you can plant them on a raised bed that will allow water drainage.

If you plant on a raised bed, remember to water often during the dry season to retain moisture as raised beds dry out faster. You can also plant rhododendrons in soil that has been amended to improve plant growth.

Decomposed pine barks and compost can also be used to adjust soil conditions. The best soil is one rich in organic matter and one that drains well to keep the soil wet enough, but not too wet.

Where to Buy Rhododendron Plants

1. Brighter Blooms

Rhododendrons are shipped from the Brighter Bloom’s nursery in Fort Mill, South Carolina. Their healthy rhododendrons arrive in specialized packaging to protect the root ball.

Well-developed root systems ensure healthy and brighter plants are delivered to your door.

The preferred shipping method includes UPS and FedEx.

Reasons Brighter Blooms is one of the best places to buy rhododendrons:

  • Plants available for shipping – Various trees, shrubs, perennials and indoor plants
  • Plant specialties – Various unique plants for all growing zones
  • Shipping containers – Ranges from the one-gallon container up to seven-gallon containers
  • Shipping method – FedEx, USPS, or UPS, depending on zip codes
  • Shipping time – Rhododendrons ship within a few days but can be delayed due to plant dormancy
  • Payment methods – Visa, Master Card, Discover, and American Express
  • Warranty – 30-Day Happy and Healthy™ Guarantee

2. Rhododendrons Direct

Rhododendrons Direct has around 300 varieties of rhododendrons available for shipping. Rhododendrons Direct website can search for rhododendrons based on color, bloom size, and height. Rhododendrons are shipped from their Albany, Oregon, packaging center.

Reasons Rhododendrons Direct is one of the best places to buy rhododendrons:

  • Plants available for shipping – Over 300 varieties of rhododoerns
  • Plant specialties – Rhododendrons, of course
  • Shipping containers – Rhododendrons are prepped and shipped in custom-designed cardboard boxes
  • Shipping method – Ground Transportation
  • Shipping time – Allow up to seven days to pack and process, then five days for transportation
  • Payment methods – Most major credit cards accepted
  • Warranty – If the plant is not delivered healthily when received and watered for two days, it may be replaced or credit issued

3. Wilson Brothers Nursery

Based in McDonough, Georgia, Wilson Brothers Nursery has grown from a dream in 1989. They have developed into a full-service nursery serving the entire US. They ship shrubs, fruit trees, vines, and perennials.

Also, they have a large selection of plants for shipping to appropriate growth zones. 

Reasons Wilson Brothers Nursery is one of the best sources for rhododendrons:

  • Plants available for shipping – Plants include azaleas, small-leaf and large-leaf rhododendrons
  • Plant specialties – Low-maintenance roses, including Wilson Brothers Georgia Peach
  • Shipping containers – Custom-designed cardboard shipping containers
  • Shipping method – FedEx
  • Shipping time – Packaged plants ship after one or two days and then are delivered by FedEx within five days
  • Payment methods – Payments accepted are PayPal, Visa, Mastercard, Discover and American Express.
  • Warranty – Upon delivery, if not satisfied, they will replace or issue store credit or refund

4. The Tree Center

The Tree Center has over 40 years of experience growing and shipping rhododendrons. The Tree Center ships its quality trees and shrubs across the nation.

Their rhododendrons are grown with professional care. All shipments are based upon the correct USDA Growing Zone for the plant shipped.

Reasons The Tree Center is one of the best companies to supply rhododendrons:

  • Plants available for shipping – Plants include azaleas, small-leaf and large-leaf rhododendron
  • Plant specialties – Live trees, bushes and shrubs
  • Shipping containers – Custom-designed cardboard shipping containers
  • Shipping method – FedEx
  • Shipping time – Plants ship after one or two days and delivered by FedEx within five days
  • Payment methods – Payments accepted are PayPal, Visa, Mastercard, Discover, and American Express.
  • Warranty – 30 days from the time of delivery

5. Nature Hills Nursery

“America’s Largest Online Plant Nursery,” Nature Hills Nursery ships nationwide. They have over 10,000 nursery items available for shipping. Plants shipped include fruit trees, perennials, bushes, evergreens and roses. Almost all shipments are from Omaha, Nebraska.

Also, the rhododendrons are inspected by Nature Hills Nursery Plant Sentry before shipment. This exclusive program certifies that rhododendrons are free from diseases and invasive plants.

Reasons Nature Hills Nursery is one of the best companies to buy rhododendrons:

  • Plants available for shipping – Plants include fruit trees, bulbs, vines and perennials
  • Plant specialties – 20 different growers provide fast-growth trees, colorful hydrangeas and rhododendrons
  • Shipping containers – Nature Hills Nursery ships their plants in unique over 20 years
  • Shipping method – FedEx, UPS, or USPS
  • Shipping time – Plants are prepared to ship after one or two days of processing and delivered within 1-2 days
  • Payment methods – Acceptable credit cards are Discover, Master Card, and Visa
  • Warranty – 60 days or one year optional warranty

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