What do I do with my rhododendron?
Last Autumn I moved a small rhododendron which had become very boxed-in by other taller shrubs. It now sits in pride of place in my garden and is getting plenty of sun. I water it lovingly during even the shortest dry spells. I wasn't sure it would survive the winter because I only managed to retrieve a small root-ball.
Anyway, it has survived and is producing new growth. My problem is that the plant is very stalky and because it was starved of sun and neglected it only has a small canope of growth on top and is completely bare underneath...
...so my question is: should I prune it back now and lose all the new growth or just leave it for the time being? I am itching to prune it back hard, but don't want to kill it and feel that now may not be the right time anyway.
What should I do? If I do cut it back, then when?
Hi. You shouldn't really prune rhododendrons but it can be done. Dead wood can be removed but pruning is best carried out in the winter with a subsequent loss of the flowers. Go down each stem until you get to some leaves you wish to keep on the plant and cut off the stems about a cm above these leaves.
My problem is that as soon as I go down the stem it's all dead with no leaves whatsoever. The only leaves the plant has is a top canope. I'm thinking maybe I should 'bite the bullet' and just cut it back hard, accept that there will be nothing for a year and hope next year brings new growth from the bottom up. 'Cruel to be kind in the right measure'?
Hi, Siberian Khatru!
Is your rhododendron a dwarf one, or a young specimen of the rough-barked, large "wild" sort (a hybrid of R.ponticum, perhaps)?
The big wild ones can be cut almost to ground level and will produce new growth from a 15cm stump, but other sorts, and many of the dwarf ones, are more fussy.
At any rate I wouldn't try hard pruning it yet, since you've just recently moved it and its roots may still be recovering from the shock of the move. If you do decide to prune, early spring is the time for hard pruning, or late spring/early summer for "gentle pruning" (usually just cutting off dead flower heads and any dead wood).
It is a dwarf plant. From memory, I think it is supposed to grow to a height of about 70cm. I think you're right, though. I shall treat this year as 'recovery' time and cut it back hard next March. There never seems to be a 'right' time with rhododendra. Next spring the buds will be on the plant and all ready to come out. If it makes a remarkable recovery this year I shall leave it. I just don't want a straggly plant with lots of dead stems.