The Q&A Archives: Pruning Over-growth Of 50-year Old Rhododendrons

Question: Buhes are over-grown. How much can I safely cut them back?
Rhodendrons are about 50 years old. Can I trim back at least one foot on the overgrowth?

Answer: There are two approaches to doing this, especially if the overgrowth is extreme. One is to trim the plants back quite short, then carefully direct the regrowth by frequently tipping the new shoots. This results in unsightly plants for two years or so as they recover from the abrupt treatment but immediately reduces the size. The other approach is to carfeully thin the plant and remove individual branches by cutting far back into the plant, thus causing it to send out new growth from the interior. This will allow you in time to remove even more of the largest branches. Over several years you will eventually reduce the overall size of the plant. Keep in mind that simply trimming straight across, as one might a hedge, will result in an outer shell of foliage and branching which is not healthy for the plant because it limits air circualtion within the interior. Trimming any overgrown plant is a bit of a challenge and takes some artistry along with a good set of pruners. Do not be too intimidated -- the plant will regrow relatively quickly from heavy pruning because of the large existing root system.

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