Winter weather can wreak havoc on the health of a rhododendron. The plant thrives best in moderate climates, and while some varieties and hybrids handle adverse conditions well, wintry effects can damage others.
Rhododendrons are at their best in mild, humid climates, so cold, howling wind is an enemy. "Always plant azaleas and rhododendrons where they get wind protection. Buildings and slopes provide good barrier," says the University of Missouri Extension Service website. "Plants not given protection from the wind often develop leaf scorch or splitting of the bark on the stems."
The ability of the shrub to hold its own against weather is entirely dependent on the variety of the rhododendron. The United States Department of Agriculture's Plant Hardiness Zone Map shows different varieties of the plant unable to survive the conditions of specific geographic zones. The map shows the Lapland rhododendron able to thrive in zone 1 temperatures of colder than minus-50 Fahrenheit -- a temperature that would kill other rhododendron types.
Salt and Sun
Ohio State University's website warns that winter street maintenance may damage rhododendrons, and urges gardeners to avoid planting the shrub where it may be impacted by salt spray from roads and cars or salt runoff from driveways or ditches.
Bright winter sun can also cause rhododendron leaves to brown and droop, so covering the bush with burlap provides protection.
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