The Q&A Archives: Pruning Drought-Weakened Rhododendrons

Question: I have several 20 year old rhododendrons that are 5-6 feet tall. They have become a bit leggy the last few years, but still have gorgeous bloom in the spring. With the drought this year, much of the foliage has curled and turned brown. If I prune them back hard, is it likely that they will send up new shoots? When is the best time to prune them this way? (Or do I need a different approach?)

Answer: You will be able to prune them back to reduce legginess but you should wait for spring. The reason for this is that pruning will stimulate new growth and it won't have time to "harden" before winter. As they resprout, tip prune them as needed to cause branching, but again, stop pruning in mid summer. Also, later pruning will of course remove flower buds.

I would be somewhat concerned about the browning foliage. You might want to take a sample to your County Extension (489-4315) and find out what caused it because it might be a disease problem exacerbated by the drought rather than simply drought damage.

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