Gardening : A Rhododendron to Take the Heat

Cold-climate rhododendrons seldom do well in Southern California, but the Vireya rhododendrons are a different story. Because they are from the tropics, these plants are both good news and bad news for local rhododendron admirers.

The good news is that Vireya rhododendrons like our climate and can be grown outdoors in borders or in pots. Unlike northern rhododendrons, the Vireyas include vibrant yellows and oranges and many are fragrant. Hybrids usually range in size from 2 to 5 feet bearing flower trusses from 3 to 11 inches. The Vireyas are much more tolerant of our salty water than their finicky cold-climate cousins, which curl up their leaves and turn brown when Colorado River water enters our pipes. Moreover, various Vireya cultivars are in bloom in different months and some bloom year-round.

The bad news is that they cannot endure freezing weather for any prolonged period. They die back when the temperature falls much below 32 degrees, so protection is necessary when cold weather is expected. And they must be grown in bark, peat moss, and perlite to achieve perfect drainage.

Vireya plants are available only by mail. For a free catalogue, write Vireya Specialties Nursery, 2701 Malcolm Ave., Los Angeles 90064 (send a self-addressed stamped large envelope.); Greer Gardens, 1280 Good Pasture Island Road, Eugene, Ore. 97401-1794; or Bovees Nursery, 1737 S.W. Coronado, Portland, Ore. 97219.

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