The Q&A Archives: Pruning Rhododendrons

Question: I know how to trim rhododendrons, I just don't know the best time of the year. I really would like to do them now if possible. They're too tall for the front of the house. They hide the windows.

Answer: Rhododendrons tend to become bare in the center as they mature unless they're faithfully pruned every 2-3 years. Depending upon how old your rhodie is, you can lightly prune the tips of the branches, or you can climb in and prune your way out. Rhodies bloom on the ends of two-year old shoots. It takes a full year for blossom buds to develop after a shoot has developed from a main branch or limb. Keep this in mind as you're pruning. If a branch is bare from the trunk to the tip, you can cut it back and it will develop leaves and shoots from leaf scars below the cut. It's not a good idea to prune more than one-third of the live plant material in any one year, so you may have to divide your shrub renovation into a two or three year project.

Wait until your rhodie finishes blooming next spring before you prune. Then, with your eyes, carefully follow each branch from tip to trunk. Decide where on that branch you'd like new shoots to develop and cut just above a leaf scar. New stems should develop this summer and flower buds should develop the following year. You can expect one or two new shoots to sprout on each branch you cut back.

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