The Q&A Archives: Sick looking Rhododendron, any hope?

Question: I received a beautiful, hearty rhododendron for Mother's Day last year, it was beautiful all last summer, however, it looks like it may not have survived our harsh is brown on the tips, very brittle looking. Is there any hope for saving this?....should I prune it back?

Answer: Based on your description I am not sure if there is hope, or not. If the branches or at least some of the branches are still alive it may be able to leaf out and survive, the first winter is often the most difficult for these plants. You can prune it back to live wood and see. Dead wood will be brittle, discolored dull gray or brown or black, any buds will be dry and hard, and the wood will snap easily in your hand. Live wood will be somewhat supple and will have green under the bark. It will also have buds that are plump and firm or show signs of recent new growth. If it is still alive, keep it mulched, water (if needed) to keep the soil slightly damp like a wrung out sponge during the growing season. (Do not be tempted to fertilize it in an effort to make it grow better. This will add more stress. A top dressing of good quality compost and a thin layer of two inches of organic mulch would be fine.)You might also want to check with a local certified nurseryman and/or your county extension for help in troubleshooting. They may appreciate a photo or two showing the overall plant and some closeups of the leaf problems. I hope it is salvageable.

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