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Rhododendron ABC's #19

As we have discussed selection, growing, cultivation, disease prevention, hybridization, and other important horticultural factors in Rhododendron culture, I should now like to take up an important, but non-horticultural, feature of rhododendron collecting that has caused me (and many other hobbyists) many problem periods.

When I first started my collection, labels were not highon my priority list. After all, many useful and easily attachable plastic labels were available and all one had to do was write the proper name and attach the label to the plant.

Alas, plastic has proven to be only a temporary solution. It pains me to think of the number of plants (particularly my own hybrids) that are now anonymous in my garden because I used plastic labels that gradually and almost imperceptibly disintegrated and fell away as the plastic became brittle and degraded by exposure to light and other garden elements.

Thus, the seemingly simple task of keeping track of which plant is which has proven for me, at least, to be anything but simple. In the nursery trade where labels need only last a few months, plastic (or even paper) is convenient and easy to use, but for the hobbyist, something more lasting is called for. I have tried and experimented with many types of labels. Metal and wooden sticks that can be written on and then plunged into the ground near a plant work fairly well, but there is a good chance that these can be physically knocked over and displaced. They are certainly better, in the long-term however, than plastic. Some growers have used pointed plastics instead of metal or wood. These have a very discouraging trait of becoming brittle and breaking after a few years.

At one time, I had access to glass blowing equipment and was able to write on paper strips and then seal the strips in glass tubes. This is a practically eternal label, but alas, is difficult to prepare and certainly not available to the average grower.

There are now available convenient aluminum or stainless steel strips on which the name can be embossed by writing with a pointed stylus. Metal wire through a hole in the label can then be firmly secured to a limb of the plant. I believe these to be a pretty good answer to long-term labeling. Notice I say "pretty good" because even these have drawbacks. For example there is some concern (and Ted Van Veen for one is convinced there is a problem) that the metal wire attached to a rhododendron limb can somehow poison the limb and eventually cause it to die. To be prudent, one should probably use coated bell wire to secure the label to the plant. This should protect the limb and prevent any poisoning.

From all this, we can say that labeling is not as straight-forward as it may appear. My recommendation for those who want to be able to identify their plants over a number of years is that they avoid paper, wood and plastic. Be sure not to rely on one's memory no matter how good one is at recalling names. It has proven virtually impossible for me to recall a number of crosses when they first bloomed after their plastic labels had long since disappeared. So far labeling is concerned, our motto should be: "Metal and Glass, Si! Plastic, No!"

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Dave Goheen