The Q&A Archives: Rhododendron

Question: My two rhododendron bushes look healthy and they form buds but I rarely get many that open successfully. This year I have only two flowers towards the bottom of one of the plants. The rest of the "buds" shrivelled up or just gave me new leaves. I did deadhead last year when I had more blossoms. Any ideas?

Answer: Rhododendrons develop new flower and leaf buds directly below the current season's flower. If you wait until late in the season to snap off the spent flower trusses, you run the risk of damaging or snapping off next year's buds. This sometimes accounts for poor flowering. Because the buds develop in the summer for the following spring's burst of bloom, they are susceptible to winter damage. Late frost can severely injure the buds, turning them a tannish brown. If the above isn't complicated enough, rhododendrons are subject to a fungal disease called Bud and Twig Blight. Diseased flowers do not open and eventually turn tan, then specked with black fruiting spores. If infected buds are not removed from the shrub prior to development of the fungal fruiting spores, they can be spread to healthy plant tissues by insects and by splashing water. To be on the safe side, prune your rhododendron now, removing the affected buds, and sterilizing your pruners between cuts by dipping them in rubbing alcohol. This should control the problem and encourage your shrub to produce new flowering shoots.

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