Deer ate Rhododendron leaves...do I cut back or leave alone

raymondforsMay 31, 2008

Some time in March deer, for the first time, came through gates (where were temporarily open) and ate nearly every leaf on a five-foot-plus rhododendron. Some leaves, nearest the top, where it was most inconvenient for them or simply too high, survived. Now is the time it would normally bloom, and several blooms have appeared and blossomed on branches above the level of the deer defoliated. Prior to this I never worried about this plant, because it always simply took care of itself; it was lush and blossomed with huge flowers all over; and the leaves remained for 12 months, though in the winter (I'm in the Catskill Mountains) in severe cold they'd fold in on themselves. Now, without leaves, do I just leave it alone, make sure the deer don't get to it, and wait for it to re-leaf? Will it re-leaf? Or, do I have to cut back the 15 or 20 years' worth of growth and have it start all over again?

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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

A healthy plant will normally fully recover if you do nothing except guard against drought. If it isn't mulched, mulch to conserve moisture, keep weeds down and reduce winter stress.

It is important the deer don't defoliate it two years in a row. That could be fatal. A rhododendron will usually come back once, but since it is stessed it may not come back two years in a row.

I would just get some deer netting like the product they have at Ace Hardware and cover it next winter to insure that you don't have a repeat performance. Remove the netting in the spring before the plant blooms. Then, since you have a fence, after one winter it should be OK unless the deer come back in the future.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2008 at 12:34PM
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