The Q&A Archives: Pruning Rhododendrons

Question: I have several catawbiense album rhododendrens. They are about 7 years old and produce beautiful flowers. However, they only have flowers and leaves at the top (about 3 feet tall). The rest of the plant is leggy. I would like to prune, cut, or whatever to bring these plants to life. After taking off the flower should I remove the existing stems and leaves to produce new growth? Or, should I just remove the flowers? They are very very leggy and the leaves are pretty droopy. Thank you.

Answer: Your rhodies can be pruned when they've finished blooming. If you snap off the old flower tresses, you'll see the beginnings of leaf and flower buds just below the old flowers. These will produce this year's leaves and next year's flowers. If you prune these off, you won't have any flowers next spring. However, it might be worth the sacrifice if you want to force new growth lower down on the plant. There are several ways to renew a rhododendron. One is to reduce the height all around by one-third. Done in early summer, your plant will begin new growth almost immediately. A second method is to cut some of the stems down by one-half but leave the rest alone. This will force some growth lower down on the plant but also save some of the flower buds so you'll have a floral display next spring. The following year you can cut the tallest stems down so the entire shrub is the same size.

Best wishes with your rhodies!

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