The Q&A Archives: Rhododendron New Growth Curling

Question: I planted a very low growing variety (2 foot max) of rhododendron on the south face of my house. It flowered in the spring. The plant had two growth "spurts" this year. Both times, brown, crisp, eventually curling spots appeared on the edge of the new leaves. I removed the damaged areas both times. The old qrowth is not affected. The plant appears to be healthy otherwise. It was planted in an area shared by azeala, rose of sharon, miniature mountain laurel and a river birch tree. All were planted this spring with a fair amount of peat moss added to the soil, fertalized in spring and covered with a heavy layer of cedar mulch. All the other plants are fine. What is causing the leaf damage?

Answer: You might have a problem with midges. These tiny insects roll the edges of young leaves and cause leaf edges to turn brown. Adults are two-winged flies, less than an eighth of an inch long. You did the right thing in pruning off affected foliage. In early spring, spray plants with a dormant oil to kill eggs and overwintering nymphs.

Another possible cause is leaf blight, caused by any number of fungi. It would be a good idea for you to gather up all fallen leaves and debris, and remove them from the bed, to remove overwintering spores. Keep a close eye on the plant come spring.

Another factor might be intense sun. Rhododendrons prefer light, dappled shade, and placement in direct sun on the south side of the house could be causing some damage to new, tender leaves. Sunscald on young leaves can also make them more susceptible to invasion by disease. Rhododendrons also will not tolerate dry soils. It sounds like you did some good soil prep., but this could be a factor if you have very sandy soil. On the other hand, they won't tolerate saturated soils either.

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