Vireya Rhododendrons Planting Hints – Vireyas need the following to ensure success:

  • Shallow planting: Do not plant too deep, plant with the root ball near the surface, or on a slight mound.
  • Excellent drainage: Most important, unless you soil is very open & well drained it is a good idea to modify the conditions. From experience they are always better surrounded by a free draining mix whether in pots or in the ground. If drainage is poor raised beds help a lot, also planting in ponga rings is reportedly successful. Most average soils will benefit with the addition of some of the following, open potting mix, commercial compost, ponga fibre, peat, pumice, well composted & not stodgy homemade compost. Fill the hole with this, slightly mounded & plant into this. Some people also recommend cutting the bottom off the pot & planting in this, especially in areas where there is a lot of root competition & repotting periodically.
  • Good light: In general afternoon shade is ideal, the hot colours take more sun, lighter colours prefer more shade, filtered light from a few overhead palms is ideal. Don’t plant in deep shade, under dense trees or under eves as they will not thrive & will be prone in insect problems they should rarely normally have.
  • Frost protection, especially in colder areas, or plant in pots that can be moved. Northland gardeners generally will experience few issues once established, or even younger plants most of the time.
  • Regular feeding: Nutricote or other slow release fertilisers are good, agriform tablets also when planting. The ideal is regular feeding but don’t overdo it. We top dress our plants with Nutrifeed & they really respond, this is ideal for pots as a top dress. Other suitable fertilisers include blood & bone, liquid fertilisers, sheep pellets sparingly, dolomite, most slow release & general granular fertilisers. Don’t use an acid plant fertiliser.
  • Mulch: A light well aerated mulch is ideal for good results.
  • Good airflow

NOTE: Do not over-pot; graduate your pot up in size as your plant grows.  Your pot must have excellent drainage. More vigorous varieties can jump pot size more readily than the smaller or slower varieties.

The book “Vireyas for NZ gardens” by John Kenyon is a very useful reference, it is out of print but your local library should have it or try Touchwood Books for a 2nd hand copy.

CONTAINER GROWING: Vireyas grow well in pots, & can be moved around as desired. Use a good potting mix & feed regularly.

BASKET GROWING: Many vireyas make stunning baskets, choose those with a spreading habit such as Littlest Angel, Cherry Pie, Aravir, lochmin, Red Rover, Showstopper, Just Peachy, Coral Flare, Vladimir Bukovsky, Pacific Showers & others. Feed regularly & ensure they are watered enough.

PRUNING: One of the most common questions we get is “how do I prevent my vireya from being leggy?” You should always pinch out the new growing tip to just above the next set of leaves, as soon as possible after they appear, this will create several shoots rather than one, then when these have formed another leaf set then a new shoot repeat the process. All our plants have had this process several times in the nursery, you should at least continue this while they are young to get a well shaped bush.

And a major part of this problem can be solved by pruning regularly and hard when young. However, always remember – only prune healthy plants. They must look vigorous when you prune or the results may be disappointing. It may therefore be necessary to look at whether they are in the right mix and their fertilizer requirements first. We use “Nutricote 12 Month” once or twice a year and liquid foliar feed such as Nitrosol or Bounty can also improve vigour and health. However, it must be remembered that different varieties have different natural habits and some are naturally more compact and bushy than others. Where possible, try to buy a healthy well-grown plant, which has already had some pruning.

However, don’t give up if your vireya has been allowed to get tall and straggly, because there is still a very good chance of getting it back into good shape. Surprising results can be achieved by hard pruning of healthy plants. Another little tidbit to remember – generally more sun, bushier plant.

PESTS & DISEASES: Vireyas when grown properly are generally very free of most pests & diseases. You may find the odd mite or thrips, usually only if in too sheltered/shaded a position. A few varieties can get powdery mildew, a baking soda spray is helpful & occasionally the odd rust spot may show in spring. These leaves can be removed or they can be sprayed with a fungicide.

Also sometimes phytopthera or root rot can affect random plants, usually in a hot wet summer, if you are a keen gardener they can be sprayed with Phosphoric acid from late November till February every 3-4 weeks. It is also a fertiliser & safe to use. It is available from Fruitfed Supplies or similar & has trade names such as Foschek, Agriphos 400 & Foli-a-phos. Use the label rate for ornamentals.


SHADE TOLERANT: some include Brightly, Pink Ray, Simbu Sunset, Liberty Bar, First Light, Popcorn, Christopher John, Just Peachy.

SCENTED: All the leucogigas x Dr Herman Sleumer type varieties are highly scented, these include Rangitoto Rose, Middle Earth, Rio Rita, Cecelia, Big Softie, Claire Elsie, Dr Herman Sleumer, Estelle, Enchantress, Peach Puff, Romance, Shogun & those marked as a leucogigas x on the label. Other scented ones include Christopher John, Aravir, Gardenia Odyssey, Jean Baptiste, Bobs Crowning Glory, Great Scentsation, Gwenevere, Moonwood, Satans Gift, Cherry Liqueur, Cream delight, Buttermilk, Marshall Piece Madison.

EASY BEGINNERS PLANTS: Pink Delight, Coral Flare, First Light, Tropic Glow, Sweet Wendy, St Valentine, Simbu Sunset, Cherry Pie, Just Peachy, Sunny Splendour, Kisses, Satan’s Gift, Vladimir Bukovsky, Littlest Angel, Aravir, Brightly, George Budgen, Gilded Sunrise, Elizabeth Ann Seaton

NOTE: In general terms species vireyas are regarded as more difficult to grow. There are exceptions. Many regard them as having a unique beauty unequalled in hybrids, so to many people they are well worth the gamble.  This is not always the case of course, as many people do have great success with a wide range of species. This is just something to bear in mind when making your selections.

Tim and Yuan Edgecombe

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