The Q&A Archives: My Rhododendrons

Question: My rhododendrons which are only a couple of years old didn't fare so well after the winter. The blooms were not as prolific as the prior two years. Careful inspection of the shrubs revealed curling brown leaves that kept drooping. I managed to save the red ones, but with a lot of loss. The lilac-colored one had an abundance of flower buds that only half opened. My favorites, the yellow ones didn't make it. I came home the other day and the last remaining yellow shrub was drooping and all the leaves have turned brown and are curling. The bush is too small to cut back -- is there any way to save it? Is it attacked by some type of fungus?

Answer: The curling brown leaves you're describing could be sunburn, or they could be caused by root damage due to poor drainage. Rhodies must have acidic, well-draining soils. Keeping the soil constantly moist will cause root rot. I'm afraid that curling, drooping leaves is a sure sign of phytophthora root rot - caused by poor soil drainage, poor nutrition and improper soil pH. The disease will remain in the soil - don't replant a rhodie in the same spot or it will suffer the same fate. There is no cure - I'd remove the plants and put something else in their places.

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