The Q&A Archives: Is My P.j.m. Rhododendron A Goner?

Question: I have several P.J.M. RHODODENDRON in a shaded woodland garden. All are planted in the same area and conditions. All have been in this location for 2 years with excellent results. One of the three rhodies has rolled up leaves (length wise like a taco shell) and is not blooming like the other two. It has small buds, but no flowers. It's leaves are staying darker brown that the others too. Any ideas what's going on with this rhodie? We had several days of freezing rain this winter that left many plants with an inch of ice on them for a day or so....we had a few this one of them?


Answer: If your rhodie was healthy last summer and fall, but doesn't look healthy this spring, it's probably suffering from winter damage. PJM rhodies are among the most trouble-free shrubs - they're resistant to root weevils (a common problem in the Pacific Northwest), and usually do not develop bacterial leaf spots, but like all plants, they can only tolerate certain extremes in temperature.

Rhodies tend to curl their leaves under toward the center vein when temperatures reach freezing. This is their way of conserving moisture and allowing only the smallest amount of leaf surface to be exposed to cold weather. The foliage generally uncurls when temperatures rise. If the leaves on your PJM have not returned to normal, it's likely that the freezing rain and wind dessicated them - perhaps to the point where they will not recover. If the roots and stems of this rhodie are healthy, the damaged foliage will be shed and new leaves will develop. You can check for life in the stems by gently scraping the bark away with your thumbnail. Green tissue directly beneath the bark indicates live tissue; rusty orange or brown tissue indicates the stem is dead. Continue to scrape the bark away on as many stems and branches as necessary until you find live wood. Then prune your rhodie back to healthy, live wood. It should respond by producing new leaves. If you can't find live wood, you may want to replace your PJM.

If this rhodie is the only one affected in a group of rhodies, you might want to dig it up and check the root system. Soil drainage can differ from one spot to another in a garden. Poor drainage can cause root rot, and rhodies are notariously susceptible to root rot. (Healthy roots are creamy white on the inside; dead or dying roots are rusty orange or brown.)

Best wishes with your landscape!

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