Rhodie planted in the fall - 60% of the leaves dry and curled up

chester_grant(6)April 12, 2006

I planted a new rhody last fall - it was a hybrid of unknown variety; I dont usually buy unknown varieties but this was an end of season sale and it was large, healthy and a good deal. However by the end of March the leaves looked dried out and the situation now is that only about 30% of the leaves, mostly in the interior, are green. Some leaves are yellow and curled up, some of the leaves are green near the stalk. Many dead leaves have dropped off mostly on the outside of the plant. I have planted many many rhodies over the years and have never had a problem like this.

I wonder whether the winter was too cold for this type - whatever it is/was - and this is winterburn. I think the thing might be salvageable if cut back - but it will look so bad I will have to replant it out back where it can blend in with the maxis.

Any suggestions?

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chester_grant(6)

I see now that there is a similar question already posted.

So the problem might have been a too-dry rootball - even though it was watered - perhaps the ground froze too soon after late planting? There is a scintillation close by which had no problem this winter nor did any of the other numerous rhodies on the property. The interior part of the subject rhodie seems quite healthy. How about this for an explanation: a combination of factors - roots not established before the ground froze plus dessicating winds during the winter.

I wonder if the stems which have lost their exterior leaves might produce new leaves from leaf nodes. The plant is not dead - and there do appear to be leaf nodes along the stems which might spring to life - however the leaf buds at the end of the stems which have lost their leaves also are dead (the leaf buds on the few stems with green leaves are OK).

    Bookmark   April 13, 2006 at 10:16AM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

If leaves on certain banches are curling up and turning brown and falling off, you have a dry root ball. It may have been dry when you planted it. Once a root ball dries out, it is very had to get water into it. You have to soak it. As you probably know, rhododendrons need good drainage, so once the roots are thoroughly wet, it needs to be planted in a moist, well drained spot. When droughts hit rhododendrons, they tend to shed branches, the outside branches being most at risk. The roots shut off water to branches to conserve water for the core plant.

I recommend digging up the plant and checking two things. Is there water in the hole. If so it is dying of too much water. If there is no water in the hole, I would soak the root ball until it is thoroughly wet and then replant in a good spot with good drainage, but do not let it go completely dry again.

If it is wind burn, the leaves stay green with brown edges. It looks a lot like sunburn. If it is just wind burn, the plant is OK and will survive. You could move it to a more protected location or use wind protection or antidesiccant spray next winter.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2006 at 10:28AM
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winged_mammal

If only certain branches have leaves that are rolling up and other branches look fine then the plant has root rot. Its a disease found in certain areas and poorly drained clay. I believe it is called phytophora root rot. The spelling may be wrong. It eventually kills the plant.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2006 at 4:47PM
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chester_grant(6)

I am familiar with root rot - but in this case I am pretty sure its not root rot. With root rot the leaves curl up - in this case the leaves dried out at the edges and look burned - in many cases the whole leaf. Most of the time this thing has been planted (from late fall) the ground has been frozen so I doubt root rot could have set in - unless perhaps it was sold with root rot. If it is root rot I had better not replant near any other rhodies though....

    Bookmark   April 13, 2006 at 5:40PM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

Root rot is almost always a summer problem accelerated by heat and moisture. I think the plant would drown before it got root rot in winter.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2006 at 5:45PM
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morz8(Washington Coast Z8b)

winged mammal, rhododendrons will often die one branch at a time when too dry...it's almost like they have a built in survival instinct of their own.

Chester, if you purchased a containerized plant late in the season, did you root prune, or completely open up that rootball before you planted to address the tightly bound roots? You'll know when you take it out of the ground -- I know you said you've planted many, but it's surprising how many times that is the reason for the plant failing several months later.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2006 at 10:04PM
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dee_can1

This seems to be my biggest problem when it comes to rhododendrons - keeping that root ball hydrated once it's planted. The only rhodos I have the problems with, though, are the ones that I buy in pots. The roots become very congested in those pots, and must be 'roughed up' a bit, and watered very well, before you plant them. Even then, I find, they are difficult to keep hydrated.

The only rhodos that are more easily transplanted are ones that are already established in the ground, with a root system that has grown outwards already. A neighbour of mine dug up a huge rhodo a few years ago, and put the poor thing by the road for garbage day. I saw the rhodo laying there (all forlorn) and phoned the neighbour and asked if I could rescue it. He said sure. I took the rhodo, (it had been out of the ground for over a day) and planted it. Watered it a few times, pruned it way back (he had kind of hacked away at it), and 3 or 4 years later, it's looking really nice. The point of my story is I had absolutely no problems keeping the roots hydrated because they weren't in this tight ball that you find on pot-grown rhodies. This is just my experience, of course.

I'd do what's been suggested (dig up - pull apart roots - rehydrate rootball). Also, cut off any dead wood, and replant. I'm not necessarily recommending this - but, I drastically pruned the rescued rhodo of mine, then again I figured I had nothing to lose. It turned out good, except I have problems with it having grey-coloured flower buds, and I'm not sure if it's going to finally bloom - but that's another story.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2006 at 6:35AM
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chester_grant(6)

morz8: well I have indeed planted many rhodies - the maxis typically come in burlap and the hybrids typically in pots; and I never had a problem with the latter. I believe that the nurseries where I typically bought them were well regarded. But I guess one never knows how long a rhodie has been in a pot and might be pot bound. The nursery I bought the suspect rhodie from is new to me as I have moved to a new area. I recently bought two large $95 sized Elegans (3 gallons?) from Home Depot which at $25 were about 1/3rd the price of a regular nursery and noticed that they had clearly been repotted into a larger pot maybe a season or two ago. I had watered them prior to planting but after reading the advice here I made a point of slowly soaking them by hand - and each one required TWO watering cans of water before water emerged at the bottom. So undoubtedly these were very very dry rootballs. I will not take that for granted in future...I guess dry rootballs are easier and lighter for shipping?

    Bookmark   April 14, 2006 at 9:51PM
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morz8(Washington Coast Z8b)

Chester, sometimes you even have to submerge the darned things in a large bucket or laundry sink and hold them down till they stop bobbing to thoroughly wet...I don't know if it's the lesser shipping weight, or just neglect. And that potting mix that can appear to be free of matted roots when they've been potted up a size can be deceiving to some, scrape away one pot size worth of potting medium and the pot bound root ball from the previous smaller pot can be found there.

You're very right, we can't take anything for granted :)

    Bookmark   April 15, 2006 at 12:06AM
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chester_grant(6)

Well - the rhodie in the OP ended up with about 75% of its leaves gone and curled up. For two cents I would have tossed it but I am cheap so I transplanted it to a shady spot and trimmed all the brown parts of the remaining leaves wuth scissors. Most of the dormant buds were brown and dried up too........but now there are quite few new shoots all over the plant. There is seemingly no way it will get even close to what it looked like when I bought it but it looks like its going to make it - unless the deer get this close to the house.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2006 at 2:29PM
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