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…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

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Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Redneck Rhododendron

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Location, location, location.  In the South, Redneck Rhododendron is just a workhorse filler evergreen.  In the North, it's a prized rarity.  Despite the "rhododendron" nickname, the flowers are small and greenish—not showy at all.  But how 'bout the bright pink stems on the leaves?

 

When new growth emerges in Spring, it's rosy-pink for a while, too.

 

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South of Maryland, Daphniphyllum is just mainstream enough not to be remarkable.  North of Virginia, though, it's not hardy enough to ever become mainstream.  All the more reason to see if you can succeed with it, too.

 

 

Here's how to grow this subtle broadleaved evergreen:

Latin Name

Daphniphyllum himalayense subsp. macropodum; Daphniphyllum macropodum

Common Name

Redneck Rhododendron

Family

Daphniphyllaceae, the—you guessed it—Daphniphyllum family.

What kind of plant is it

Broad-leaved evergreen shrub or small tree.

Hardiness

Zones 6 (but only with luck and perfect siting) - 9.  Some sources say just to Zone 8.

Habit

Unless pruned or growing in the shade, broader than tall and full to the ground—just like old, large, loosely-growing varieties of rhododendron.  Unlike rhododendrons, though, always single-trunked.  In shade to part shade, open and more upright, usually showing some trunk, and usually taller than broad.

Rate of growth

Slow when young, medium when older and larger.  Slower at the cold end of its range.

Size in ten years

In Zone 7 and up, where Winter damage isn't a concern and where the growing season is longer, eight feet tall and wide.  Ultimately to fifteen or even twenty feet tall; in Japan, where it's native, reportedly up to forty.  In colder climates, to five or six feet tall and wide.

Texture

Identical to that of large rhododendrons, except that Daphniphyllum foliage doesn't furl in cold weather. 

Grown for

its obscurity.  Partly because the flowers aren't showy even though the common name is redneck rhododendron, Daphniphyllum presents a marketing challenge.  Why plant anything called rhododendron that doesn't have showy flowers?  (Which reminds me to write about R. laetevirens 'Wilsoni', a peerless evergreen despite the fact that it almost never remembers to bloom, even when happy, and when it does—with sporadic, small, pale-lavender flowers in very half-hearted little clusters—you wish it had continued in amnesia, instead.)  But, because obscurity is its own aphrodeisiac, Daphniphyllum is all the more desired by the cognoscenti.   

 

its foliage.  Rhododendron-like leaves in palmate clusters somewhat similar to (but not as large as) those of the tropical houseplants, the scheffleras, but with striking—in an obscure and of-interest-to-the-cognoscenti way—rose-to-burgundy petioles.  New growth is rose-to-burgundy overall, too.

 

its durability, at least when growing from warm Zone 7 south into Zone 9, where it's extolled as being self-reliant; bullet-proof; shade-, sun- and drought-tolerant; and deer-proof.  This would be in contrast to true rhododendrons in these same locales, which deer might devour, and which would usually require some shade and, even then, would still need attention to watering.

Flowering season

Early Summer.  The flowers are yellowish green.  They're not showy, but are fragrant.  Pleasant blue berries are produced on female bushes, but only if there's a male pollinator nearby.  My youngster hasn't reached sexual maturity yet, and I only have the one anyway so, whether it turns out to be male or female, blue Daphniphyllum berries are not in my garden's future. 

What colors will work with it?

With the only colors of Daphniphyllum in the rose-purple petioles and new foliage, plus the subtle blue berries, the bush can associate with almost any colors but strong reds.  Because the bush is only somewhat hardy down into Zone 6, though, gardeners at this cold end of its range tend not to worry about such aesthetic niceties, concentrating, instead, on siting the bush where it has the best chance of actually surviving, regardless of what colors are adjacent.

What plants could it be partnered with?

Daphniphyllum is a species prized for its discretion, for not standing out.  As a subtle broadleaved evergreen most often used in woodland settings, then, it's easy to pair with plants with ferny foliage (as in, actual ferns), to underplant it with shade-tolerant ornamental grasses such as Carex or Hakonechloa, to back it (or front it) with cut-leaf Japanese maples, or, at the other end of contrast, to use it as underplanting for the huge-leaved deciduous magnolias such as Magnolia macrophylla or M. tripetala.  Its foliage would be too similar to that of the evergreen M. grandiflora, though.

Where to use it in your garden

As background bulk and filler, although because the rosy-pink petioles are fun—and bring you extra points from the cognoscenti, too—it's a help if the bush is also fully accessible, at least at one side.

Culture

Shade or sun, in rich but—without fail—well-drained soil.  Needs shelter at the northern end of its range: southern coastal New England, plus the Cape and adjacent islands. 

How to handle it: The Basics

In warm Zone 7 to 9, Daphniphyllum lives up to the plant-it-and-forget-it implications of its common name.  As long as the soil and the drainage are both excellent, you're home free.  

 

From Zone 7 down into Zone 6, though, Winter is more and more of a challenge.  Plant the bush close enough to the north side of your house that it doesn't get sun in the Winter.  This will reduce the chance of winter "burn" on cold, windy, sunny days, where the leaves warm up and start transpiring, but the roots, still in frozen soil, can't replace that water.  The leaves then dessicate and "burn."  If there are high old conifers nearby, too, so much the better: They'll assist in diffusing the cold wind.  Bulky evergreens from zero to ten feet will do the same at their lower altitudes.  

 

Alas, Daphniphyllum is slow growing and not available in any size through the on-line sources that Northern gardeners would need to use instead of retail.  Also, it doesn't lend itself to espaliering against a sheltered wall, the way you could with, say, a Southern magnolia.

 

Spraying with an antidessicant, then, is all the more important to protect the foliage from Winter damage.  Come Spring, production of new growth is usually reliable, but the damage still sets the bush back, regardless. 

 

As is typical for evergreens at the northern edges of their hardiness range, if you can keep the bush alive until it gets a bit larger, it will become tougher.  Good luck!

How to handle it: Another option—or two?

If your climate is mild enough that your Daphniphyllum is in danger of getting too big, you could limb it up as a small broadleaved evergreen tree.  On the other hand, if your climate is thatmild, there are plenty of other broadleaved evergreen trees to consider, already—and ones with showier flowers.  Camellias, anybody?  Banana magnolias? 

Any quirks or special cases?

Nope.

Downsides

If you want flowers, Daphniphyllum will be a cruel taunt.  I've heard the plant's small but fragrant flowers spun as "not creating the distraction" that rhododendron flowers do.  The power of marketing! 

Variants

Oddly for a plant that, until recently, was authoritatively declared impossible to propagate by cuttings, there are a number of exciting variegated Daphniphyllum cultivars.  These wouldn't normally come true from seed, so would have to have been propagated by cuttings.  I'm very glad someone has figured out the tricks; now I'd just wish any of the variegates were actually for sale.  Visit the Buchholz Nursery site to see Daphniphyllum with leaves so brightly colorful they make even Aucuba variegates look drab and tentative.  Alas, none are currently for sale.  Let me know if you locate any on-line sources for variegated Daphniphyllum

 

There are over twenty other Daphniphyllum species, all evergreen shrubs or trees native to east and south Asia.  D. tiejsmanni is occasionally in arboretum and nursery collections, but I can't find a source that offers it for sale, either the species or the variegates.  D. humile is available on-line, though, but it looks just like D. macropodum.  Unless you can collect the variegates—or you've just been bitten by the redneck rhododendron bug—you can probably be very content just to grow D. macropodum.    

Availability

On-line, and at retailers where the plant is a no-brainer, in Zones 7 to 9 .

Propagation

By seed and by cuttings.

Native habitat

Daphniphyllum himalayense subsp. macropodum is native to northern India, although other sources say China, Japan, and Korea.  But those are also the sources that use just the name Daphniphyllum macropodum.

 
 
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