After graduating from Michigan State University with a degree in art, I decided to go back to “Nursery School” also at MSU. After working at various nurseries in west Michigan, my then husband Frank Pluta and I became interested in rhodies and realized that the soil and climate were perfect for a rhododendron nursery. We started Rosebay Nursery in 1977.
The location was chosen for its sandy soil and mature pines. The nursery is on 20 acres, that was formerly a Christmas tree farm providing sheltered areas between rows of mature pines and open fields. 24 polyhouses were added later to over-winter spring orders, and 27 Nearing frames for propagation and introduction of new varieties.
Because of the varied growing environment Rosebay is like a big Rhododendron research center. Some varieties of rhododendrons are grown between pine rows, while others are grown in more open areas. This gives us a chance to determine the optimum growing conditions for new varieties (we currently grow 80+) and provide ideal conditions for old favorites. Our research is shared with our customers to help designers with their choices, and retailers with planting information for their customers.
Some people believe that rhodies are difficult to grow in the Midwest, but after 40+ years I have a simple three-part formula:
- Use hardy varieties.
- Condition the soil properly – Rhododendrons need a well drained acidic soil.
- Match the variety to the location – most hybrids for example should be kept from the winter sun.
Rosebay Nursery is known for producing a heavily branched, dark green, well budded plant. If a plant doesn’t make the grade it is trimmed and left for another year of growth. Our plants survive 3 to 7 Michigan winters in the field before being sent into the real world. These are not pampered, over-fertilized polyhouse plants, these are proven hardy plants. Rosebay rhodies are not only beautiful they are tough.
I have a real passion for rhodies, and there is nothing I like better than wandering around my fields after the staff is gone and checking on the plants. The blooms in Spring are spectacular, but it is the foliage and habit that interest me the most. I love trying new varieties; it’s the spice of life.