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Gardening in the Rainy Zone.
Pronounced: roe-doe-DEN-dron ok-sih-den-TAH-lee
Northwest North America.
Sunset zones: 4-7, 14-17.
USDA zones: 7-9.
Heat zones: 9-7.
Height: 6-10 feet (2-3 m).
Width: 6-10 feet (2-3 m).
May to June.
After leaves emerge, trusses come with 6 to 12 funnel-shaped, highly fragrant, creamy-white or barely pink flowers, with a golden blotch; some are marked with a carmine rose. Flowers open from rose-pink buds.
Deciduous, 1-3 inches long, elliptic or oblong-lanceolate, glossy green, with underside pubescent. During fall, leaves will turn yellow, scarlet or crimson.
Full sun to partial shade.
Moist, but well-drained, humus rich soil.
Prune lightly after flowering. Thinning and selective heading along with pruning crossed branches is all that is necessary. Rhododendrons usually wind up looking terrible when pruned for size reduction. If a rhododendron is outgrowing its designated area, dig it up and plant in a place where it can reach its glorious potential. Remove dead wood in summer when you can see it easier.
Rainy Side Notes
Difficult to grow outside the Pacific Northwest and California, Rhododendron occidentale is a choice native plant for our region. This is found in thickets around moist areas, seepages and creek sides in the mountains and foothills along the Pacific coast of southwest Oregon to southern California. Kruckeberg recommends planting our native azalea "in massed plantings, interspersed with evergreens." What a delight that is to view; in addition, the fragrance of a massed planting—intoxicating.
In the Garden
The western azalea is used extensively in breeding programs as a parent plant for many highly sought after hybrids, especially for adding fragrance. Some of its offspring include 'Delicatissimum', 'Exquisitum' and 'Irene Koster'. All won the RHS Award of Garden Merit in 1993. Although its hybrids easily grow outside our region, R. occidentale is not easy to grow outside the maritime Pacific Northwest and California, especially in areas where the weather is hot and humid.
The Western azalea was used as decorations in dance wreaths by the Pomo and Kashaya tribes people in California. The Modesse people used it as an antidote to poisoning. (Do not use as a remedy, call your local poison control center or 911 in case of poisoning.)
Photographed in the Rhododendron Species Foundation Garden, Federal Way, Washington.