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Potomac Valley Chapter ARS

Potomac Valley Chapter
of the
American Rhododendron Society
Newsletter: Winter 2001

Remembering Good Friends

We were saddened to learn of the passing of Shirley Grant this fall. We will certainly miss her cheerful spirit, lovely garden, and beautiful flowers that often took top awards in our flower show. We also learned that Bill Drake has passed away. We extend our deepest sympathy to the families and friends of these fine people.

Chapter Seed Exchange

The bulk of this newsletter is dedicated to our annual seed exchange. This year, we have an extensive offering of 144 seed selections including hand pollinated (hp) crosses, open pollinated (op) hybrids and species, and a number of species collected in the wild (cw). So what is the difference and which should you buy?

In a hand pollinated cross, the parentage is known because the hybridizer deliberately made the cross. Often there are distinct objectives, such as in the cross I made of the lavender spider azalea ?Koromo Shikibu? with the double pink Glenn Dale azalea ?Delos?. My objective was to see if I can develop deer resistant azaleas. I base this conjecture on the fact that in Amherst County, VA, on a piece of property where I have grown azaleas for nearly 30 years, I have noticed that the deer do not generally eat these two plants. They may nip at an occasional branch, but other azaleas clones growing just feet away have been eaten to the ground whereas these two varieties are rarely bothered. Perhaps they have some flavor or foliage quality that the local deer near don?t like. My plan is to raise lots of seedlings of this cross and plant them in the woods to see if any survive heavy deer browsing over the long term.

Other objectives might be to develop better foliage or new colors. For instance, I crossed the pale lavender Haag?s hybrid called ?Great Smokey?, a vigorous ?Hardy Giant? hybrid, with pollen of Harold Greer?s ?Perfectly Pink?, a favorite at this year?s ARS Convention in Eugene. Both plants have large leaves, big flowers and prominent blotches so I expect to more plants with those characteristics. Norman and Jean Beaudry made crosses with Will Smith?s hardy, large leafed R. calophytum. This species can produce some great foliage plants. Bruno Kaelin crossed the fragrant, pale yellow ?Sweet Christy?, that gorgeous frilled deciduous azalea that usually wins him top awards in our flower show, with ?Sham?s Yellow?. I suspect Bruno?s goal was to get flowers like ?Sweet Christy? with a deeper yellow color. That will be a guaranteed ?Best in Show?.

When seed lots are listed as plants that were open pollinated, at least one of the parents is known, the one that carried the seed pod. This means that the plant might be crossed with itself to produce a second-generation hybrid, or there is the possibility that the bees have brought in pollen from elsewhere in the garden to make a cross with some other rhododendron. In any case, if you liked the parent plant, it is likely that seedlings from an open pollinated cross will have many of the same qualities you admire, plus a little surprise. Jane Goodrich has provided some great open pollinated Gable hybrids, such as the pink ?Fragrant Stranger?, the apricot ?Mary Garrison?, or yellow ?wardii-Discolor F2?. George Ring has seed from several R. yakushimanum hybrids such as ?America x yak? and Pride?s ?catawbiense x yak? that should result in compact hardy plants with great foliage. The flowers will probably be compact trusses in shades of pink.

If deer have been a problem in your garden, consider raising some of the lepidote or ?scaley? species or hybrids. These are the small leaf rhododendrons that have aromatic foliage and if you inspect the underside of the leaf with a magnifying glass or microscope, you?ll see structures that look like scales. Deer don?t seem to like the flavor of lepidotes, so check out those offered in the seed exchange including the species R. carolinianum and R. keiskei, and the hybrids ?Epoch x augustinii?, ?Twenty-four Karat?, and ?Pioneer?.

Some of species that are open pollinated should be the pure form, such as R. vaseyi and R. schlippenbachii from Margaret White?s garden. These species rarely cross with anything, so they are usually be the pure species like the parent plant. We have some hand pollinated species including Margaret?s magnificent R. cumberlandense (bakeri), that glorious orange shrub that always brightens our chapter picnic in June.

When species seed is collected in the wild, it is most likely that the plants were crossed with themselves or other members of the same species although hybrids can happen. We have indicated the location where the seed was collected and offer these as separate selections, such as many forms of R. calendulaceum from Roan Mountain and George Ring?s dwarf calendulaceum.

One of my favorite plants in the Roan Mountain area is a beautiful form of R. calendulaceum that our species studies group calls ?Molten Lava?. This plant is one of the finest selections overall that we have seen in the Roan Highlands. Located at the edge of Jane Bald, ?Molten Lava? covers itself every year with large, ruffled flowers that are over two inches across. The color is a glowing shade of light orange-apricot that reminds me of molten lava, hence the name. Hopefully, this plant will be in bloom when we make our June field trip to the Southern Appalachian Highlands. I have pictures of this plant and many of the others listed in the seed list on my web page:

Doug Jolley, George McLellan, and Harry Wise have collected seed for us from a number of species in the wild. We have seed from the pink R. prinophyllum, (roseum) from Dolly Sods and the lovely R. arborescens with its white flowers and red stamens from several locations including Wayah Bald in North Carolina and West Virginia. These two species have beautiful flowers but they are also extremely fragrant. Doug has collected seed from a hybrid swarm of R. periclymenoides (nudiflorum) possibly crossed with R. calendulaceum and other species at Audra State Park in West Virginia. This seed lot could produce some native azaleas in a wide color range similar to those seen on Gregory Bald.

Deciduous azaleas raised from seed are always lovely, and like evergreen azaleas they grow very fast and bloom in just two or three years. Jon and Phyllis Wallenmeyer gave us some great deciduous azalea seed including a yellow R. austrinum selection ?Escatawpa? as well as seeds of the glowing ?Mount Saint Helens? and ?Berry Rose?. These latter two plants are growing side by side in their yard so there is a good chance they have crossed with one another. Jon gave us seed from the very fragrant hybrid selection of atlanticum and periclymenoides called ?Marydel?, and also from a batch of seedlings he raised from open pollinated seed. We call this ?Marydel F2? but it is more like Jon?s own hybrid swarm.

I donated seed from a heat tolerant austrinum hybrid from Louisiana called ?Admiral Semmes?. The seed is listed (op) but it was a controlled cross. I just lost label. I either crossed it with ?Goldflakes?, a compact yellow that blooms early, or else the large, ruffled yellow ?Chetco?, another one of my favorites. There are lots of great evergreen azaleas in all colors and forms.

In our exchange this year, we also have some seed lots that were extremely scarce, perhaps one small packet at best. We decided to list these at the end of the order form as ?Bonus Packets?, so if you would like to be considered for some of these, please indicate your preferences.

For instance, one cross I made was the Hachmann hybrid ?Fantastica? with pollen I obtained of ?Rubicon?, a tender bright red from New Zealand. The rabbits chopped off the branch shortly after I made the cross, so I tried to root the cutting while letting the seed pods develop over the summer. I am not sure if the seed will be viable, but I tried.

We want to extend special thanks to all of our seed donors this year. The source is noted in parentheses with an abbreviation beside each offering. If you want more information on the specific mother plants, give the donors a call or drop by their gardens. With the open pollinated hybrids, it is fun to speculate on possible parentage by looking at nearby plants.

Raising Rhododendrons and Azaleas from Seed

All of the seed selections in our exchange are exciting, but how does one go about raising rhododendrons and azaleas from seed? My procedure is rather simple. The process requires a few materials, some fresh seed, and a bit of patience, but the results are very rewarding. Seedlings started during the winter months can be planted outdoors the following spring, and in a few years they will provide a wealth of landscape material and beautiful blooms at practically no cost. Rhododendrons will bloom in 3 to 4 years from seed. Evergreen and deciduous azaleas bloom even sooner. Those first blooms will be the most exciting part since every seedling will be slightly different. Some may be prettier than the parents, others not quite as good, but the next prize winner could be in your own yard.

For seed containers, I often use recycled plastic gallon jugs used for milk or bottled water. With a pair of scissors, I cut off the top half of a well-washed bottle and make a few slits in the bottom to allow for eventual drainage. These jugs make excellent seed starters but almost any container will do. An important requirement is to find a clear plastic bag that will enclose the entire pot, creating a miniature greenhouse for the germinating seedlings. One advantage of plastic covers is that seedlings will require little care for many months, eliminating common problems found in dry winter homes. It also helps for those of us who often neglect our plants by forgetting to water every now and then. If young seedlings dry out just once, they often never recover although older seedlings are much more resilient.

The soil mix I use is my standard potting medium for rhododendrons and azaleas: 1/3 peatmoss, 1/3 perlite, and 1/3 sand. I make certain that the sand does not contain limestone, since rhododendrons do not like sweet soil. I fill the cutoff plastic jugs about 1/2 full, and moisten the medium well, but make sure it is not too wet or soggy. Excess moisture is a serious problem for seedlings or cuttings since it encourages fungus diseases. Keeping plants on the dry side eliminates many potential problems.

I plant the small seeds directly on the surface of the medium, and try to spread them fairly uniformly and not too close together. I often water sparingly at that time with a very dilute fertilizer solution ( 1/4 strength ) but nothing else during the next few months. Sometimes I do plant the seeds more closely at first, and then prick out small seedlings soon after germination, just as they show their first true leaves. I then transplant them to fresh containers, spacing evenly to allow the seedlings more room to grow.

I enclose each container inside a clear plastic bag and place these mini-greenhouses under artificial lights, about 12 inches from the top of the container. An inexpensive ?shop light? fixture with two fluorescent 40-watt bulbs can provide enough light for 15 or more pots of seedlings. I keep the lights on for 18 to 24 hours per day, since long days encourage vegetative growth in seedlings.

The seedlings germinate in a few weeks, and grow slowly at first. Since the entire system is enclosed, there is no need to water or fertilize. I just watch the leaves expand, imagining what the blooms will look like and wondering where I will put the seedlings in years to come. Rhododendrons should be spaced 6 to 10 feet apart, so a few pots of seedlings can plant an acre of land.

In most cases, my seedlings grow undisturbed until I am ready to transplant in the spring. Plants grow more rapidly if given more room, dilute fertilizer and fresh air, but when I am short on time and space, I have often let them stay in sealed containers for a year or more. If seedlings are too close and the medium too wet, a gray mold may appear which can kill them off, but fresh air and repotting helps the condition. When ready to transplant, gradually open the bags to get seedlings used to lower humidity.

Once in the garden, allow the seedlings grow on their own without too much fuss or care. Natural selection may kill a few of the weaker plants that cannot adjust to local conditions, but in a few years you will have a garden full of beautiful rhododendrons and azaleas that are perfectly adapted to your particular environment.

Each spring, you will anxiously await the blossoms of old favorites as well as the first blooms of new seedlings. It won?t be long before you are giving plants away to all your friends because you need more room. Then you will be making crosses of your own and seeking pollen from around the world.

Donald W. Hyatt, Editor

Copyright © Donald W. Hyatt