Trees and Shrubs forum: Is this Rhododendron salvagable?

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Name: Lori
Upstate NY (Zone 5b)
Garden Photography Butterflies Birds
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LoriK
Jun 1, 2016 1:30 PM CST
We did a massive cleanout of an overgrown bed. Half dead bushes and lots of ivy vines, ground cover, etc. The only thing I left was the rhod because it did bloom last year (our first year in the house) and I hoped cleaning out the bed might help.

However, it's at least 15 years old and was pretty neglected. It has a lot of open space. There is dead wood in there and some really thick branches which have blooms at the ends, but nothing else. I cut out some of the dead branches, but not all. I'm afraid to do a complete rejuvenation pruning way down because I think those branches may be too thick to have viable buds - even though the tips have blooms? Here are some photos of it now:

Thumb of 2016-06-01/LoriK/336128
Thumb of 2016-06-01/LoriK/a66d26
Thumb of 2016-06-01/LoriK/7032ab

Thumb of 2016-06-01/LoriK/10ef93
There is a tiny bit of growth on the bottom:


Thumb of 2016-06-01/LoriK/392eab

I don't know if I should just take it down to there and hope it starts anew?

It's not the most attractive like this:

Thumb of 2016-06-01/LoriK/59056f

I don't know if I should just take it out and start with a fresh one or hold my breath, cut it way down and wait. It's my first time having this shrub. I wanted to give this one a chance; however, inexperienced with them.

Thank you!
~Lori
My garden renovation blog http://www.bloomcrazy.com
Name: Cindy
Hobart, IN zone 5
aka CindyMzone5
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
Shadegardener
Jun 1, 2016 2:22 PM CST
I think you have nothing to lose if you want to try to salvage it by pruning it back. Best time is as soon as the flowers fade. Prune back as much as you are comfortable with after cutting out the dead wood but I'm not sure that I'd prune it very low. You may not know until next spring if you're successful. I would also give it a small dose of an organic fertilizer for acid lovers (nothing with salts or high nutrient numbers) and mulch with about an inch of peat moss to make sure the soil is acidic enough for it. I would not recommend mulching on top of the peat moss with any wood mulch which could bring in disease/fungal organisms. I have pruned my rhodies (about 20 years old) and various azaleas and they do respond well to it.
Name: Lori
Upstate NY (Zone 5b)
Garden Photography Butterflies Birds
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LoriK
Jun 1, 2016 2:57 PM CST
Thank you Cindy. I think I'm just afraid to do it LOL. It's not like it really looks that great anyway when not in bloom, so not sure why I'm worried.
~Lori
My garden renovation blog http://www.bloomcrazy.com
Name: Cindy
Hobart, IN zone 5
aka CindyMzone5
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
Shadegardener
Jun 1, 2016 5:24 PM CST
Rhodies are tougher than you think. Maybe bring those lateral branches in by 6 to 9" and a little off the top? Just don't go overboard on the fertilizer. There are enough leaves on it that I think it might pull through. If there's improvement by next spring, you can always do a little more pruning. Don't be upset if there aren't as many flowers next spring but it may surprise you.
Name: Tom Cagle
SE-OH (Zone 6a)
Old, fat, and gardening in OH
Coppice
Jun 4, 2016 1:04 AM CST
Fertilize it with a little mir-acid, and mulch the heck out of it. 4 to 6 inched of bark mulch yearly is not too much.
Name: Lori
Upstate NY (Zone 5b)
Garden Photography Butterflies Birds
Image
LoriK
Jun 28, 2016 12:11 PM CST
I took a deep breath and finally pruned it after the flowers were done. I took off probably a third of the bush and some of the big branches. There were a lot of smaller really long branches with leaves at the very end and I took those down farther. I guess we shall see next spring what happens!
~Lori
My garden renovation blog http://www.bloomcrazy.com
Name: Cindy
Hobart, IN zone 5
aka CindyMzone5
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
Shadegardener
Jun 28, 2016 6:05 PM CST
Lori - Congrats on charging forward! You should see some new growth soon.
Name: Laurie Basler
Western Washington (Zone 7b)
Houseplants Region: Pacific Northwest Sedums Orchids
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lauriebasler
Sep 1, 2016 1:35 AM CST
I have to prune mine in late fall, so new growth has a fresh slate. These things are very tolerant of hard pruning. I have 2 plants in my beds that way more feet of branches than it got to keep, but they respond really well to it. Good luck.

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