Christmas Cheer is the first of the traditional Rhododendrons to flower in the year but under its own steam, it will miss Christmas by just over a month. Early February onwards, large coral pink buds will open slowly to long lasting white flowers throughout February and into March, marking the beginning of spring along with camellias, daffodils and crocuses.
One of the great values of this early flowering variety is as the weather is cooler, the flowers come out much more slowly and also slightly in succession. Again with the cooler temperatures the flowers once out will bloom for longer period of time to give you more enjoyment.
People worry about the frost but the only time the frost will affect the flowers is if you can see the open buds or flowers yourself. So when in bud there is no need to be concerned but as soon as you see the pink and white petals, if there is going to be a frost, just cover the plant with some fleece carefully draped over the top for the night and you will be fine. This is a very hardy, low maintenance plant.
I believe it was the Victorians who named this plant and did so because they were able to force this variety to flower early in time for Christmas. They used the large flowers as indoor house and table decorations during the festive period, a time when it was very important to impress your friends and peers. I have tried forcing the flowers myself, there is definitely an art to it and so far the best I have achieved is New Years Day.
Top tips for Christmas Cheer
Plant it in a container so you can have it near the house when it flowers. This also means that if it is going to be a frosty night and the flowers are showing, then you can move it under the porch, in the garage or greenhouse for the night. Once flowered, move it away to a shady cool area of the garden, all in readiness for the next year.
Plant just under the canopy and shelter of other taller bushes or trees in the garden and again this will protect any open flowers from the frost.
As mentioned the flowers will open in succession and will go over in succession likewise. Nip off any old flowers as they go over to make your Christmas Cheer look as early and fresh as the first day of flowering.