Monday, September 9, 2019

Changes in the Garden

The shady front yard gives way to the sun as the morning progresses. Due to the cooler mornings now, I go outside later. I wait for the temperature to warm a little and the dew to dry more on the grass.

The season is winding down. There’s less deadheading to do. The lilies have one more blossom and the hibiscus not many more. The rose of Sharon still has a few buds. The cosmoses have quite a few buds, too, but the stalks are all turning black. I’ve already cut a lot back. The daisies are mostly cut back except for the leaves.

I can’t help but see something to change during the early daily walkabout to check the gardens. As the plants grew throughout the summer, some now need to be divided. The foliage overtook pathways. Things shifted, and now that the deadheading is almost over, my gardening time is spent in coming up with new ideas.

Creating gardens on this property has been a challenge because the land was built up with fill and rocks. Roots, mosses, and various grasses have dug in making digging difficult. But I manage a little at a time, sometimes getting help from friends and neighbors which I appreciate.

The new plants are the tall ones at the top of the photo
The other day I was given some taller than me plants (she thinks they’re helianthus) and because they seem to be a wildflower like black-eyed Susan’s, I decided to put them in the garden near and parallel to the road. I’m not sure they’ll blossom this year, but they should come back next year.

A couple days later, after deadheading, I decided to set a couple more stepping-stones more solidly in the ground along the front of the house. (I’ve been setting them on top of the ground until I decide exactly where to put them.) Now that plants are matured for the summer, the original paths I’d started are crowded. I don’t like brushing against plants to get by.

Right now, I have to squeeze by the false indigo, and two steps farther, in the middle of where I have this current path, is one of the original azaleas that was here when I moved in. There are four, none of which have done much in the four years I’ve been here, and they took a beating this past winter which flattened them out – but then, Leo helped with that. I’ve caught him sitting in the middle of the plants. (What’s with that? I’ve never seen a cat do that before.)

Plant on the left is the azalea I moved
I decided to move this one to the new stump garden. This way I could continue the path. I got the shovel and dug all around the plant. Thankfully, the roots weren’t deep, and I was able to pry the shrub out of the ground (do you still call it a shrub when it’s a tiny thing?)

Turns out it was wider than tall, and it wasn’t easy carrying it to its new home. But then came the hardest part of the job – digging a new hole twice as wide and deep as the roots. The ground of this new garden, in front of old stumps, is full of roots and the soil is hard and rocky.

I pounded and pounded with the shovel. It took a lot of effort to break through that root and get the hole just barely big enough. Yeah, it probably needed to be deeper and wider, but I’d done all I could. I squished the roots in the hole and held the plant as upright as I could while I filled in the hole. It’s now not as flattened as it was in its original place, and it actually looks happier.

I took a break to research dividing or transplanting false indigo. What I read said these plants do not do well if moved. I guess I should be thankful I was able to transplant it from Bradford when I moved here. I love this plant as it was one my mum and I chose together, and I don’t want to lose it. What I can do is cut back some of the stalks that are too near the path. This will leave the majority of the plant intact. It’ll all get cut close to the ground before winter.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

A Time to Garden – Hardy Hibiscus

It’s the time of year when the hibiscuses are sporting their huge blossoms of bright colors.

Hibiscus, also known as rose mallow and rose of Sharon, is an herbaceous annual or perennial, a deciduous shrub or small tree. It’s in the plantae kingdom, order of malvales and genus hibiscus. The species hibiscus moscheutos is a cold-hardy cultivar. Hibiscus is used in teas, dried edibles and can be candied for desserts or garnishes.

My first experience with hibiscus was years ago when I bought a beautiful potted plant at Home Depot. I was amazed by the size of the flower. Unfortunately, that was also when I believed places sold only plants that would grow in New Hampshire – unless they were annuals. Needless to say, my hibiscus didn’t last long. I was then told hibiscus are tropical plants.

After I moved to Bradford from the Seacoast, I’d periodically drive by a house in Hillsborough in late August. She had rows of tall hibiscus growing along the driveway and garden along the road. I knew she couldn’t be digging them up to bring inside for the winter. There were too many. How was she getting hibiscus to survive?

I got my answer after I’d moved to Hillsborough in 2015. The following spring, I made a stop at Agway as I was creating more gardens. Agway had hibiscus plants for sale! Melissa told me these were perennial hardy hibiscus and would survive winters of zone 4 hardiness. I was excited and throughout the next couple weeks, I bought four in different colors. (I loved them so much I kept going back for more.)

I later learned that tropical hibiscus has single or double blooms with green, glossy leaves. Hardy hibiscus has single blooms and heart-shaped (what I call fingered) leaves of a duller green (the leaves on one of mine are reddish).

What’s eye-catching about hibiscus is the size of the blossoms and how tall they grow (up to 5 feet). Flowers can be 6 inches or more in diameter (the bigger 10 to 12-inch blooms are called dinner plate hibiscus), with colors ranging from yellow, peach, purple, shades of red and there’s now a blue one called Bluebird Hardy Hibiscus. (Oh, I want one of these!) The flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds and bloom late July and August. The flowers only last one or two days but more come.

Planting: Make sure your purchase is a hardy variety. Choose a full-sun location with well-drained, rich soil. They also do well near ditches and swamps. Dig a hole only as deep as the root ball and two to three times as wide. Mix the soil removed from the hole with a small amount of compost if the soil is in poor condition. Good soil doesn’t need to be amended.

Carefully remove the plant from its pot and set it in the hole. Fill the hole halfway with soil, then water well. Allow the water to settle which eliminates air pockets. Fill the rest of the hole and water thoroughly. Add mulch.

Care: Frequent watering is required in the first two months after planting. Never let the soil dry out completely. Once established, water deeply when the top few inches of soil feels dry. Hibiscus requires a large amount of water while blooming; constantly moist, not wet. Water daily in warm weather soaking completely through the root zone. However, cut back on watering once the weather cools; too much water can kill it. Stake long stems if needed.

Organic fertilizer with plenty of phosphorus encourages blooms. Use a high potassium fertilizer in the summer, a diluted liquid fertilizer one a week, a slow release fertilizer once a month or add a high potassium compost to the soil. (As I often find, research can be contradictory as one site said to feed twice a month during the growing season – discover what works best for your plants.)

Check plants periodically for pests: aphids, white flies, mealybugs and Japanese beetles. Control pests with a horticultural oil or insecticidal soap. (I’ve purchased a variety of repellents along with Dawn dish detergent which I’ve heard also works, but I’m afraid to use anything that might harm bees and butterflies.) Also watch out for rust fungus, which also affects hollyhocks and other mallow plants.

Pruning: Prune as necessary to control plant size. Cut back errant branches to just above a side shoot. Cut the entire shrub up to half its height after the first flush of blooms fade. This will encourage more bud formation and maintain the size of the shrub. You can also just trim off individual spent flowers to encourage further flowering. Keeping plants deadheaded makes the gardens look tidy and prevents the seeds from sowing unless seedlings are wanted.

If left alone, hardy hibiscus may self-sow and become weedy. These seedlings will not necessarily be the same color as the parents. However, they can be transplanted and moved throughout the garden.

Preparing for winter: Cut back dead stems to near ground level in the fall after a frost. The stems usually die back to the ground. Mulch over the root zone to provide protection and insulation for the roots. The roots survive and the hibiscus quickly grows new stems in spring.

For the new season: Winter-damaged and dead stems may attract pests or disease so prune off any dead stems in late winter/early spring. Hibiscus is a slow growing plant often not showing signs of life until June, well after other plants. Pinch the shoots of young plants in early summer to encourage branching and more flower stalks to form.

Tip: They also do well in containers but do not transplant well.

It sounds like a lot of care, but it isn’t bad at all and the rewards are worth it. The hardy hibiscus are such bright spots of color when other summer flowers are starting to fade.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Being Creative with Flower Gardens

Another week went by and I was still sore from my fall. However, I was determined to get outside. I’m probably not giving myself enough time to fully heal, but I just can’t sit still all the time. I have to get out and do things … besides deadheading.

Sometimes my stints outside aren’t much. I might move a couple stones, set a paving stone for a step into the garden, or work a little at creating more of a tier in the north side lily garden.  I get new ideas on how I can enhance the yard.

Enhanced garden
One day I commented to my neighbor Andy how I wanted to build a retaining wall where the echinacea and rudbeckia are on the lowest part of the north side. I wasn’t sure how to fill the space between the two big boulders where water, soil, and mulch run off into the gully. The few retaining wall bricks I had didn’t quite fit the space.

A little while later he called me to come out. Oh, my God! He made it look amazing, and he filled it in with smaller rocks like the boulder garden out front. He even fixed up the two-lily garden by the walkway.

The stump garden and wet area cleared.
This little bit of digging and laying in dirt was all my body allowed.
On the last blog, I mentioned him using the string trimmer to clear weeds and messy growth along the edge of my property. I decided to make a new garden on the front side of the now clear stumps leaving the pretty tall ferns. The back side turns into mini pond when we get heavy rains. 

The area up to the stumps was mossy with roots which made it hard to dig. Stabbing straight down with the shovel to break ground and roots aggravated my sore ribs, but I pushed on to finish the area. I placed stones in a slight crescent shape as a suggestion for the new border. I wanted to make a slightly bigger area

The question was how to build a retaining wall in the back so this new garden can be leveled. (My intent is to level garden areas because it’s hard for me to work on slopes.) I mentioned to Andy about maybe cutting down the leftover stockade fence section to create a picket fence look in the back. He thought that was a great idea.

A quirky retaining wall with found items and more dirt to level.
He came back the next day after thinking it over. He didn’t think the stockade fence pieces would be sturdy enough. While I was working inside, he found leftover posts from the old deck and logs left behind when a couple of trees were cut down. He laid the posts horizontally to create a wall on one end, and at the other end, he stood the logs up vertically. He filled in the garden with soil, then called me to come out.

Wow, I was surprised! While the picket fence look would have been nice, what I like about this is that it’s quirky, like me. (Someone later said my gardens are whimsical.) What shows of the old wooden posts, I’ll paint purple to further enhance the quirky-whimsicalness. (Next year I’ll plan something for the top of the stumps … some kind of d├ęcor or potted plants.)

I’m so impressed by this year’s progress in the gardens and being able to pump water from the brook has kept everything green and lush.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Getting Help Creating Beauty

After taking a header on the deck last Friday, I’ve been moving very gingerly. I’m surprised I could still walk. I’m bruised and achy down my entire right side. For the next few days, I did minimal garden work.

But by Tuesday, I had to get outside, first deadheading the lilies, then moving a couple of stones from the rock pile to the hibiscus border. I set two bricks as steppingstones to access the crabapple for pruning.

On my next stint outdoors (I do a little work at a time), I pulled sample paint cans from cupboards above the broom closet to play around with new deck color. I added two different colors to the areas on the porch and deck where I’d put the first color Wednesday. Oh, I’m having such a dilemma choosing. 

Andy and his new roomie, Justin, came over. Justin began moving the rock pile and placing the small stones in the lower tier of the boulder garden. I asked Andy to take out the Russian olive on the left side of the driveway. It’s not a pretty shrub and it hides the beautiful ornamental grass which I never get a chance to see. I also asked him to clean up the growth around the stumps.

He went over and above. Next thing I knew, he not only had taken down the growth with the string trimmer, he brought over his lawn mower and cut all the little scrub brushy stuff even into the dried-up road water runoff pond and along the edge of the property. Then he took the string trimmer and cleaned off the big boulders. 

Leo says the bigger one is a perfect look-out resting place.

Meanwhile, I decided to paint the letters on a garden sign Don and Carol gave me years ago. The hanger hooks rusted and broke, but the sign is still nice. However, it was just a dull greenish-gray. Last year I spray painted the whole thing yellow intending to paint the letters, leaves, and flowers other colors. I never got around to it.

My work bench was messy with tools, projects to work on, and things to put away which I didn’t get to putting up this year. I cleared a small area and started painting the letters of the sign with Benjamin Moore majestic purple. It didn’t take long for my back and neck to start aching as I hunched over the letters to see into the grooves and get lines straight. I didn’t give up, though, and pushed through.

I swear it took me an hour to paint “A GARDEN sings songs of Nature’s SPLENDOR” with a tiny art brush. (The capital letters are how they are on the sign.) By then, my feet were screaming, too, especially as I was still recovering from the fall a few days prior. Enough done for the day.

I love my gardens and yard. It IS all about: “Creating Beauty for Myself, Creates Beauty for Others.”

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Awakening Spring Pumps New Energy into the Land and Me

Awakening Spring Pumps New Energy into the Land and Me

My night was full of dreams, very busy dreams. I don’t remember the dreams when I wake, just know they have nothing to do with me. It’s like someone else’s dreams invade my sleep. There’s nothing helpful about them; no messages to benefit me. They just sap my needed rest, and I don’t like it. Stay out of my head!

What’s funny is I never used to dream – or I wasn’t aware I dreamed. Just once in a great while, and I seldom remembered. Since moving here, dreams invade my sleep all the time. The gist of the dreams do not stay in my consciousness; I only wake knowing I was dreaming. It’s annoying.

Guess I need to set protections at night.

Light bounces off the water in the rushing brook. The glare catches the corner of my eye and distracts me. White water gushes off rocks and around the huge boulder.  Even though the sky is gray, the air seems to have a clarity to it. I’m not sure what that is or how to really describe it. Maybe the rain washed the dirt off the windows? No, that’s not it.

Ah, it’s spring popping! The moss and lichen on the trees have brightened, limbs are getting tiny leaves, and even the hemlock branches seem perkier. The land itself gives off a vibrance of awakening. I want to get out there!

The flower beds have so many plants pushing out of the soil. Some crocus blooms are already passing while other buds have yet to open. So many other plants are stretching taller while others are poking out of last year’s detritus which I hadn’t trimmed back. (I’ve noticed other nearby towns already have many plants blooming, but here, things are a little slower.)

I overdid it raking the flower beds out yesterday, but it needed to be done before the plants get any taller. Neighbor-kitty Leo waited on the bench and when I was done raking, I sat with him a bit. He’s most lovable when I sit outside with him. I relaxed and contemplated yard projects.

The winter damaged rhododendrons need to be cut back. The lilacs and one of the rose bushes need to be moved, I want to find more rocks and finish building a wall around the gardens, cut down some saplings that are making a corner of the yard too busy … Oh, the ideas keep coming.

The gardening muse continues her battle with the painting muse, and, at the moment, is winning. This is the most important time of the year for me to get out – before the bugs swarm and it gets too hot. I find it soooo exciting!

Monday, February 25, 2019

Christmas Cactus

(First published in the InterTown Record in three parts in 2018)

As it is so often, research into a particular plant has my head spinning. What I’d always assumed, is not necessarily true, and various websites have slight differences in their explanations.

Schlumbergera bridgessii is the scientific name for Christmas cactus. The cultivars are also known as Thanksgiving cactus, crab cactus and holiday cactus. Christmas cactus is not really cactus but a succulent. Wikipedia says, “Nearly all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti.” (Succulents are plants with parts that are thick and fleshy which enable water retention in arid conditions.)

One site said the Christmas cactus does not naturally exist in nature. It was bred from two other plants grown in the rainforests of Brazil. It has segmented, flat stems of a glossy green which can hang down about 36 inches. Flowers form on the ends. The bright blossoms are unique in that they may have several tiers of petals making the entire flower up to 3 inches long. Each one can last for several days, and the entire blooming period spans several weeks. 

Because the plant comes from rainforests it prefers humidity and requires more water than what one would assume of a cactus. Homes around here can be very dry. A little extra care in the winter may require putting the cactus in a pebble tray. Place pebbles in the tray and add a little water. Don’t cover the pebbles. Set the cactus pot in the tray but not so the plant itself is sitting in the water. The evaporating moisture will help provide humidity. (I bought a couple of cheap, pretty trays at Family Dollar and with colorful stones and/or river rocks added, it makes a cute setting).

Basic care of a Christmas cactus is keeping it out of drafts, watering when it feels dry, providing adequate light and occasional feeding. One thing of interest, though, is that Christmas cactus requires a certain amount of darkness.

I think my Christmas cactus liked me writing about it last week. (Doesn’t most everything like a little attention?) The plant has sprouted more and looks vibrant. Oh OK, perhaps it’s because I’m giving it more water now that I understand it’s not a real cactus.

Speaking about watering, here are some tips. Water when the top inch of soil feels dry. Soak the soil until water runs through the pot’s drainage holes. Give it a few minutes then discard any excess water in the drip pan. If you use a pebble tray let the extra water in the tray evaporate to provide humidity around the plant. Just make sure the plant isn’t sitting directly in the water (which could cause brown spots, or root or stem rot). Pebble trays and the pebbles need periodic cleaning.

A mild household plant fertilizer is beneficial, too, about every other week. However stop feeding a month before the plant will bloom, usually late summer and fall.

I learned two “thermo-” terms in this research regarding blooming and achieving the best growth in plants. Thermo-periodic is the technical term used for the amount of day light time the plant is exposed to in a 24-hour period. Thermoperiodism refers to the day and night temperature fluctuation surrounding the plant.

Christmas cactus likes indirect sunlight and does best in east or north-facing windows. It can adapt to low light conditions but will bloom better in bright, indirect light. Too much direct sunlight may burn the leaves. Ideal day temperatures should be around 70 degrees and evening temperatures 60-65 degrees.

I mentioned last week about the ability to choose when you want your cactus to bloom. Of course most people want theirs to bloom around the fall/winter holidays, although the plant can also bloom during the summer. If you want more control, whatever date or holiday you choose, simply cut back watering and hours of daylight six to eight weeks before you want it to bloom.

This will force the plant to go into its dormancy/rest period. (Whether you are trying to change its regular bloom time or not, it still needs a period of dormancy.) It will also need more darkness; 12-14 hours of total darkness, meaning no indoor light or neighbors’ lights. (I have neighbors who leave their outside lights on all night.) Some people cover the plants or put them in a closet. Dormancy temperature is best at 50-60 degrees. It the temperature is over that, the plant will need 15 hours of darkness.

New buds will eventually begin to appear and, at that time, increase the water times – but not the amount. Buds will fall off with too much water or if the pot is moved around. Blooming time is usually four to six weeks in bright, indirect light. The flowers can last up to nine days.

Once flowering time is over, the plant can be trimmed back for uniformity. Pinch off enough sections to achieve the shape you want. Normal watering and fertilization can begin when new growth appears.

To continue about Christmas cactus care: Christmas cactus prefers snug pots with its roots tightly confined in well-draining soil. This snugness helps the root system produce better blooms. The plant will only need to be repotted every two to three years.

Repotting is usually best done in spring or early summer when the plant is not blossoming. This allows the plant time to acclimate before blooming again.

Pruning helps keep the plant healthy, keeps it shaped and confines the growth to the available space in the home. Pruning also encourages the plant to branch out and start growing again. Give it about a month to rest after the blooming period is complete, though. To prune, gently twist the stem between the segments on the stem and remove the section. Up to 1/3 of the Christmas cactus can be removed each year without causing damage to the plant. Sections trimmed off can be placed in a new pot to create more plants. Bury the last segment in potting soil.

Fertilize with a houseplant fertilizer April through October. The plant can be moved outside to a shady spot in the summer until temperatures drop below 50 degrees.

Two issues with these plants are stem rot and root rot.
Root rot can happen if the roots sit in wet soil. The plant can be saved if the damaged root can be removed. However if the rot has moved up the stem, stem rot, a fungal problem, occurs. If this happens start a new plant before the infection spreads too far.

My Christmas cactus had two more blossoms during the third week of February.

Saturday, June 16, 2018


There’s been at least two or three rhododendron bushes in every place I’ve ever lived. I used to think it was a shrub that once planted, you just let it go and grow. When I moved to Bradford, I learned that with a little care, rhodies can be even more beautiful.

This past week I had a couple sections of stockade fence installed and decided to get new rhodies to go in front to pretty up the blank wall. (Later I will add my flair of painting – purple, of course! – along with some other decorating.)

Rhododendrons (rhodies) are a familiar spring blooming shrub that usually stands out because, not only the size of the plant itself, but for the large clusters of showy flowers. Rhodies belong to the genus of rhododendron and are the largest genus in the Ericaceae family. There are over 1,000 different species in the genus. The Ericaceae family also includes azaleas, heather, cranberries, blueberries, mountain laurel and more. Rhododendron is from the Greek and means rose tree.

All azaleas are in the rhododendron family but not all rhodies are azaleas. It depends on the subgenus and types of leaves. The leaves for the smaller azalea are usually pointed and narrow; the leaves of the rhododendron are generally large, leathery and paddle-shaped, although that can depend on the particular species/subspecies.

Note: Rhododendron are toxic to humans and pets. Do not eat any part of the plant! There is a lot of talk about the toxicity to bees and what is called “mad honey.” The websites I checked had some pros and cons. From what I can tell, the bottom line is rhodies attract bees, but as long as there are many other flowering plants and trees in your yard, there is no worry.

Rhododendrons can be evergreen or deciduous. The blossoms are usually tubular, funnel or bell-shaped, and often fragrant. Individual blossoms form in a ball-shaped truss. The flowers come in colors of white, red, pink, yellow, blue, purple, magenta, orange and various shades thereof.  The shrubs come in a variety of shapes and sizes and leaf shapes vary in size, shape and texture.

Rhodies prefer environments where it is neither too hot nor too cold (Zones 5 to 8) and need a certain amount of chilling to develop strong flower buds. Though most flower in the spring, there are also summer-blooming varieties that add color and charm to any garden.

Most large-leaved varieties require dappled shade; avoid deep shade or full sun. They do not like full morning sun in winter. Choose a sunny spot that receives a few hours of shade is perfect. Soil should be well-drained, humus-rich, moist, and acidic (pH 4.5-6). Soggy and waterlogged roots are the main causes of failure. The north side of a building not under the eaves is best, protected from the wind. If you’re planting in a more open area, make sure to choose a more tolerant species.

If you can prepare the soil in the fall for planting in the spring. (Of course, I never plan that far ahead, ha ha.) Amend the planting area with compost, peat moss or a substitute. Oak leaves are good, too. If the shrub has a root ball, soak before planting by placing it in a tub of water until air bubbles disappear.

Plant the shrub in loamy fertile soil so the top roots are at soil level or slightly below. If you plant them any deeper, the roots may rot. If the plant was in a pot, plant it so the crown is the same level as it was in the pot.

Regular rhody care
Rhodies have a shallow root system and need consistent moist soil and at least two inches of mulch to keep them from drying out.

Tip: When the leaves curl and twist, water immediately. Do not allow the stress of wilting. Shade loving annuals, such as the annual impatiens, may be planted near the rhody and will also indicate when water is needed.

Fertilize in the fall with an acid loving material. Pine needles make a good mulch. Wrap rhododendrons with burlap in the fall if winters are severe. Winter burn results from frozen soil, freezing winds and cold winter sun.

Snap off spent flower stalks by bending them over until they break away from their stems. Remove dead flowers carefully because next year’s buds are just under the old heads. Be careful not to damage growth buds at the base of each flower stalk. Deadheading, where practical, promotes vegetative growth rather than seed production.

Heavy pruning will help rejuvenate a plant but may take a couple years before it will bloom again. I personally experienced this. The first year I lived in Bradford some of the rhodie leaves turned brown during the winter. My brother, who did landscaping for years, said it was winter burn. He suggested early in the spring pruning back the parts/branches that were damaged. It would not harm the plant to cut it back to within a few inches from the soil.

I was hesitant but trusted him. I trimmed up some of the shrubs and cut the most damaged one almost entirely to the ground. By mid-summer, there was signs of new life and yes, it took a couple years to bloom again. As I had never seen this one in bloom before, I was pleased to see a beautiful shade of cream (not like the standard purple-pink color of the most the others).

Also, one of the bushes in a closed-in corner between the sunroom and garage was so well-protected that it grew huge; covering almost the entire corner width-wise and up over the roof. Again, Don said to cut it right back, not to the ground, just to give it better shape and allow more airflow through the shrubbery. Soon it began showing new life. How exciting!

This week someone saw one of my Facebook photos of my newest rhododendron (rhodies). He asked how to get rhododendrons to bloom.

Some people are lucky enough to just have the right spot for their rhodies to blossom well. For others, their rhodies may take a little care, especially with the hybrid varieties.

Know which type of rhodie you have. Some require more sun while others prefer shadier areas (but not total shade). Realize too, as the trees around your yard grow and change, that could change the amount of sunlight your garden gets.

So here are a few tips:
If the shrub is new, was it planted too deep? Rhodies have shallow roots. Only plant the new shrub as deep as the root ball. Tip: A straight handled tool placed across the ground of the newly planted shrub should lie level with the area around it.  

New plants need to get established and may take a couple of years to bloom.
Adding 2-5 inches of mulch will help keep in moisture in the soil. Mulch or pine needles permit needed air but mounding the plant roots and stem with soil may prevent blooming.
In the spring, fertilize lightly when the buds swell. Cut back on fertilizing and watering in late summer. Coffee grounds worked into compost or into the soil will boost the acidity level required by rhodies.

If you prune off the spent blossoms, do so right after they fade. Next year’s buds begin forming quickly and waiting too long to deadhead will remove next year’s growth. Try to remove spent blooms before it goes to seed by holding the stem and carefully snapping off the flower head without damaging the new buds.

After the blooming period, check the plant for health and cut away any parts that are dead. A rhodie pruned back a lot, may take more than one season for it to blossom again. In this case, be patient.

Some rhodies bloom a lot, some may not bloom every year.