American Rhododendron Society Awards Grant to Holden Forests & Gardens

Mon., Jul. 26, 2021

By Annie Rzepka Budziak, Director of Arboretum Horticulture

While HF&G has decades of Rhododendron hybridization experience and a solid understanding of the cultivars that will persist in our region, soils vary dramatically throughout the HF&G campuses.  In addition to diverse soil conditions, our Rhododendron collections exist under a variety of tree canopy conditions. In recent years, we have noticed a decline in the health of our collection across our three core Rhododendron gardens. The common culprits – root rot and stem dieback – are part of the cause, but even the evergreen and deciduous azaleas have struggled in some gardens. This has led us to believe that disease is not the sole issue.

Rhododendron mucronulatum ‘Cornell Pink’

We have long assumed that the soil traits in our garden beds, most notably drainage, and canopy cover have been the driving abiotic factors that influence the overall health and vigor of our collection. While we have made guesses at potential problems, we have not had empirical data to support our assumptions. Our suspicion is that there are additional soil traits affecting the overall condition and health of specimens within our Rhododendron collection. However, diagnosing plant health problems is not straight forward as many factors play a role, including the inherent conditions of the site, pest and disease pressure, planting depth, and root problems associated with improper nursery practices.

Rhododendron racemosum

Holden Forests and Gardens was recently awarded a grant by the American Rhododendron Society Endowment in support of a collaboration between the Horticulture and Research Departments.  This funding will allow us to collect data so we may better understand how to care for and maintain our Rhododendron collections.  We will look specifically at physical soil characteristics, macro and micronutrient compositions, soil drainage, and light level gradients throughout select beds at the Leach Research Station, Layer Garden and Rhododendron Discovery Garden.  The micro-site information will be added to our existing database to bolster the data we have about Rhododendron in our collection and used to draw inferences based on what we already know about specimen condition. 

Rhododendron yedoense ‘Pink Discovery’

The American Rhododendron Society’s purpose is to encourage interest in and to disseminate information about the genus Rhododendron. It is our intent to share what we have learned from this project and use it as an opportunity to connect with our patrons through our shared struggles (and successes!) in rhododendron cultivation and to share our approach for addressing rhododendron health problems in our gardens.  Guests visiting the Arboretum can begin looking for signage in the Rhododendron Discovery Garden and Layer Garden in the spring of 2022 and will be able to follow up on our progress through our blogs and in Forests and Gardens Magazine.

Annie Rzepka Budziak

Annie Rzepka Budziak

Director of Arboretum Horticulture

Ann Rzepka Budziak has been a Horticulturist at the Holden Arboretum since 2008. In this capacity, she maintains the Myrtle S. Holden Wildflower Garden, collects and propagates seed for use within the garden, assists with heritage species monitoring, and helps maintain Holden’s commitment to the Center for Plant Conservation. Ms. Rzepka was previously employed by the Geauga Soil and Water Conservation District where she served as their Natural Resources Specialist. She earned a B.A. in Environmental Science from Hiram College.


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