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Ask the Gardener: How to revive a rhododendron

Plus, tips on hiring someone to help you pick out the right plants.

Rhododendron line a path that winds through Acton Arboretum. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

What to do this week Put on a sunhat and get busy. Set the mower at 2.5 inches for a healthier lawn. You can plant almost everything now except annuals and summer vegetables like tomatoes. Hoop the peonies and thin the phlox. Pull flowering weeds before they go to seed, and do not compost them. With invasives like garlic mustard, one year’s seeding equals seven year’s weeding, so get them before they get you. For serious instruction on controlling pests, sign up for the walkabout at Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum on May 24, from 4 to 6 p.m., at ($55).


Q. Last fall my neighbor was getting rid of a large rhododendron. I offered to take it and planted it. It seemed to be doing well, but now most of the top is dead. There appears to be healthy leaves at the bottom. Do you think I can save it?

M.Q., Weymouth

A. If a branch looks dead, you can snip off a piece. It’s alive if it shows any green at all inside the stem. Rhododendrons and azaleas need to be planted shallow, with the roots just barely covered with soil or mulch. So dig it up and replant it higher if it’s in too deep. Don’t fertilize, as that can add stress. We are about an inch behind on rain, so water it weekly through the spring and it may still produce new leaves. A couple of inches of mulch will help, too.

Q. I would like to find a gardener or a garden consultant to help me choose appropriate plants. Our landscape architect helped with water problems but was not much assistance with plants. How can I find such a person?

P. H., Mission Hill

A. If you just want advice on what to buy, make an appointment with the designer at the best independent nursery near you. Bring lots of photos of your garden along with your questions wherever you go.


It is hard to find a skilled gardener to hire. Semi-skilled lawn care workers often don’t know much about gardening, while some licensed landscape architects focus on engineering issues like drainage more than choosing unusual plants. Look for a “garden designer.” This is a self-described term anyone can use, but at least it connotes enthusiasm for designing with plants.

Rich people can always find good gardeners because they hire companies that recruit them and then bill $50 an hour for their time while paying the actual gardeners $20. I recommend cutting out the middle person by finding your own garden person. You could try the Internet, where you can see portfolios. But I prefer someone who lives nearby, so I use word-of-mouth recommendations. Ask people with exceptional gardens whether they do their own work. Would they visit your garden and give you advice? After that, you could offer to pay for their time.

Because I am myself knowledgeable (but increasingly decrepit), I often train my own gardeners. College students can be good but don’t stick around long. I garden alongside as a kind of foreman while they do the heavy work. I found my current gardener through my physical trainer; she does not even garden herself, but just knows a lot of people. The point? Maybe it’s easier to extract the name of a sought-after gardener from people who don’t need one themselves.


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