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Pruning a leggy rhododendron

hello, I have inherited a very leggy rhodendron which looks like it has never been pruned. It is approx 6 feet high and 4 feet wide but the leaves and flowers are only at the very end of long, woody, bare stems. It flowered in March this year. I have been feeding it throughout the year and would like to try and shape it so it is bushier and has flowers and leaves other than just at the very ends of branches. 

If I cut back some of the long branches, there are no green leaves at all except at the ends, will it rejuvenate or will I kill it? What do you recommend for this old, tired rhododendron? Thanks for any suggestions.

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  • FairygirlFairygirl west central ScotlandPosts: 48,972

    You've nothing to lose image

    I used to regularly prune any I had as they're like weeds up here.  It may not come back well (difficult to judge without knowing more or seeing a pic)  if you prune the whole thing hard now, but you could take a few branches back to a joint and see what they look like in  a few weeks. You could then let it recover, and do the same next year after flowering, but  take it back a bit further. They usually sprout new growth from the cut stems, and it makes them bushier in the long run. Just water well and add a bit of well rotted manure and/or compost to the surrounding area. No need to keep feeding - that's of no benefit just now - what they need at this time of year is water, as this is when the new buds form for next spring. The branches/stems you cut back now won't carry any flower buds for next spring.

    If you prune more after flowering next year, you can give it some slow release feed then - Blood, Fish and Bone is ideal. A liquid seaweed feed is also useful to help promote new foliage growth, so you could give it that at various points through the season until it gets going. 

    If it was mine, I'd hack it back and see what happens, but you may want to be more cautious! If it doesn't survive, see it as an opportunity to plant something else. They look pretty awful if allowed to get leggy as you describe. 

    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....


  • Ladybird4Ladybird4 Third rock from the sunPosts: 35,480

    Hi Honeyheart. It is possible to cut back a leggy Rhododendron but you might have to sacrifice flowers the following Spring. They should be pruned when they are dormant in WInter and try to find a bud on the bare stem. Cut just above that. If you like, you could leave one or two of the shorter bare stems with leaves and prune them the next year so you may still get flowers on them.

    Cacoethes: An irresistible urge to do something inadvisable
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