Written in September, 2010
This summer has been murder on Long Island (just outside of New York City). We started off with a very wet spring and the rhododendrons looked great, even though we didn’t have a great bud set caused by a cloudy, dark summer in 2009. It started to get dry in June and in July the heat hit. 103 degrees F. one day and in the high 90s for weeks on end with no rain and bright sunlight. My garden is mostly shaded by very mature oak trees. With that heat and sunshine, no matter how much you watered, it didn’t seem to have any effect. You could water all day and the ground was just as dry as before after a few hours.
I did notice some interesting things. First, the yellows did very poorly with the lack of water. They collapsed rapidly and would reach the no-return-with-water point very quickly, a lot quicker than most of the pink rhododendrons. I lost a 6’ Golden Star and very large Donna Hardgrove. They collapsed seemingly overnight. The very hardy plants would droop and curl their leaves but almost never got to the abort-the-leaves stage. If it got too dry they would abort the least important branches, mostly those low on the shady side of the plant. The whole plant wouldn’t abort like the yellows did. Deciduous azaleas eventually dropped their leaves, but the vegetative buds look OK for next year. I guess they just went dormant early. Those plants that set buds late in the summer or early fall have a very sparse bud set while those that set their buds in early July are covered with buds. The indumented plants did quite well. There was a little die-back, but in general they came through well. Well here it is the third week in September and we are still dry and it is getting hot again.
Last spring Costco had an enormous quantity of 3 gal rhododendrons for sale for $19.95. They had 3 foot diameter heads on them loaded with buds. Customers were buying them like crazy. I wonder, after this summer, how many are still alive. I run every morning and pass a home where someone had planted three Anna Rose Whitney plants this spring, about 3 feet high. They sure were a knockout when they bloomed. Right now, one is basically dead, another poor looking and the third not so bad but with no flower buds for next spring. And these had been watered all summer. I wonder if any will survive the winter.