Hardy lepidotes with their smaller leaves are more tolerant of sun, as a general rule, than the more typical rhododendron with the large leaves. Often they have interesting winter foliage color or colorful fall foliage on the older leaves prior to falling. Most people know the PJM hybrids (PJM Elite, Regal, Olga Mezitt) for their early bloom and tough disposition but they get too big for our garden.
'April White' is the first rhododendron to bloom in our garden (mid-April) probably due to its southern location near the house. A tough plant whose semi-double white flowers tolerate frost.
'Dora Amateis' and interesting hybrid with a species (R.ciliatum) that is not hardy but gives its foliage a hairy edge.The flowers are fleshy pink in bud and open white.
'Ginny Gee' tolerates considerable sun and forms a flat cushion. Ours is 6-8" high by 24" across and blooms heavily in shades of pink and white. Nearby, another hybrid of R. keiskei 'Yaku Fairy ','Intaglio' grows similarly.
'Manitou' blooming the 2nd week in May this seedling of 'Windbeam' proceeds to cover itself with multiple soft pink trusses. It keeps a bushy upright form with excellent dark foliage.
'Mary Fleming' blooms early despite a shady location. Crushed by snow, it springs back well but needs pruning after a while . Its bisque yellow flowers look nice from a far.
'Myrtifolium' blooming the 2nd week of June this hybrid keeps a beautiful hedge of foliage. In a more exposed location its leaves can sun burn in spring so citing is important.
'Southland' the beauty of this Kehr hybrid is the heavy substance pink tubular flowers in late May against attractive foliage. Seems to stay semi-dwarf.
dauricum 'Delp's dwarf' would bloom earlier if it was in a more exposed location. It keeps its tight growth with an occasional pruning of rogue shoots. Dark maroon winter foliage shines as a background to the typical magenta colored blooms in late April.
keiskei var. cordifolia is a dwarf form that seems to bloom better and grow better for us then the more popular 'Yaku Fairy'. Greenish yellow buds open to a pale yellow flower on a 6 year old plant 4" tall. Definitely for a shadier location than most lepidotes.
minus grp. carolinianum is particularly hardy and we grow many forms including the tetraploid 'Epoch' with its twisted leaves. It blooms best in full sun but the flowers will fade quickly if it gets hot.
mucronulatum 'Cornell Pink' is deciduous that is hard to beat for reliability of clear pink early flowers. Usually 1 day behind 'April White'.
mucronulatum 'Crater's Edge' is a dwarf form wild collected from a volcano field in Korea. It blooms the 2nd week of May with pale rose colored flowers with a white blotch.