The traditional rhododendrons and azaleas grown in our gardens are mostly native to China and Japan. However, native rhododendrons are also found throughout tropical Asia, Borneo, New Guinea and down as far as north-eastern Australia, and these are widely known as Vireya rhododendrons.
They make terrific garden plants and offer more to many Australian gardeners than the traditional rhododendrons because they flower repeatedly. The shape of the flowers is clean with a long tube and widely flaring petals. Consider these points:
· Vireyas flower from autumn through winter and spring with summer their least floriferous period
· Vireyas grow in a wide range of climates as long as they are protected from frosts
· Generally, Vireyas are not as large growing as traditional rhododendrons so they fit into the smaller contemporary town garden perfectly
· Adequately watered, Vireyas make outstanding tub plants.
Choose a planting spot for your Vireya that receives early morning sun but is protected from hot western sun. Dig in Debco Soil Conditioner which contains SaturAid granular soil wetter to improve the soil and help to hold moisture in the root zone of the plant, their one vital requirement.
Select your Vireyas to suit your garden colour scheme. Since they grow in lightly shaded spots, their bright, clean flower colours are a great asset in bringing lightness and colour to shady areas.
It is a good idea to visit your local nursery to make your selection in autumn, winter or spring while the Vireyas are in flower. You can select just the colour to suit your garden.
Among my favourites are:
· 'Carillion Bells' – a gorgeous, red/pink
· 'Hallowed Gold' – rich yellow, orange
· 'Robert Bates' – delightful soft pink
· 'Simbu Sunset' – orange tubes with a yellow centre
Plant your Vireya as you would any other plant in a spot that you can keep moist (a drip irrigation system would be perfect) and that will not become waterlogged. If you don't have such a spot then grow your Vireya in Debco Gardenia, Camellia & Azalea Mix in a large pot, but do remember to keep it well watered.
Apply Debco PotMate Mulch or Debco Green Wizard Mulch around the base of the plant and feed it in spring with Debco Plant Food.
Australian native plant enthusiasts can also grow Vireya rhododendrons without any sense of guilt as two species are native to the north-east of the country, Rhododendron lochiae with trusses of deep red tubular flowers and R. notiale.
The former especially is easy to grow and is available from many native plant nurseries.