Trees and Shrubs forum→Pruning rhododendrons

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Name: Jackie
NJ (Zone 6b)
Bee Lover
tinypiney
Jun 7, 2020 5:20 PM CST
Hi all! I transplanted this rhododendron from my parents' woods into my garden bed last fall, and this is how it looks now in spring. It's a bit leggy which I read can happen when it's not pruned in the first few years of growth. I know late winter is the best time to prune it, but I'm looking for advice on my best plan of action. Should I cut it down to 2 ft tall like I read? It only has a couple strong branches. It would be a shame to cut the whole thing down and I'm worried it won't bounce back.


Thumb of 2020-06-07/tinypiney/7b63a9

Name: aud/odd
Pennsylvania (Zone 6b)
Garden Ideas: Level 1
Image
Cinta
Jun 11, 2020 3:15 AM CST
I would not do anything to it this yr. It is suffering because of the trauma being moved. I get coffee grinds from Starbucks and they love it. It will make it strong. I do think the area may be too small if you cut it every yr you probably will not get flowers because after they flower the buds develop on the ends. You will see the bud development this fall.
central ohio (Zone 5b)
PlantingOaks
Jun 11, 2020 9:40 AM CST
Leggy plants can often be caused by too much shade - they are stretching to try to get above their neighbors and find more sun. You say you moved it from your parents woods, which sound like a shady place.

It actually would have been a great time to prune it right when you transplanted it - fall or winter. Transplanting pretty much necessarily destroys some roots, so removing some leaves as well can keep the plant in balance and make sure it has enough roots to support all the leaves. Your plant looks pretty healthy though, so you didn't do harm by not pruning then, you just lost a year of getting it into shape.

Now that it has pushed out new growth, I agree with Cinta and would wait until next year to prune it, other than real emergency stuff, like if you keep tripping on that low branch for instance.

The rule of thumb when pruning is to not remove more than 1/3 of the leaves per year, so you are right that chopping it directly down to 2 ft would be too big of a shock. A vigorous, established shrub could still tolerate it, but it's not a great idea on a new transplant. Rhododendrons don't grow well here, so I don't know the details, but in general for a natural look, you would remove 1/3 of the leggy branches down to 6" or so stubs every year. The bush will then regrow new, more compact growth, and you can remove more of the too-long branches the next year. If a certain branch is so big that removing it entirely would be more than 1/3 of the -plant's total leaves, just cut it as low as you can and do the rest next year.

Once it is generally an OK shape look into more rhododendron-specific guides for maintenance pruning.

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