Can this rhody be saved?

sevimo(5/6)May 16, 2014

Hi everyone, we recently moved into a new house with nice landscaping, but after brutal winter here in Toronto (I believe this is zone 6 Canadian, or zone 5 US). it clearly needs some love. There is a rhody plant that was fine last year (bloomed beautifully), but in spring all the foliage seems practically dead (see photo) - there are no intact leaves or new growth at all. Is it completely dead? I tried to scratch branches to see if there is any green below bark, but can't say I am finding much. The exception is the very top cluster of somewhat better looking leaves - I can find green there on the branches. There seems to be quite a few flower buds, but I am not sure these are alive. That's about it. I don't know how old these plants are, or what cultivars, but I can see plenty of old cuts (including down at the bottom), so these might be reasonably old.

Is there anything that can be done to save the plant? Should I still wait for signs of new growth, or is it not going to happen?

Should I do rejuvenation pruning all the way down to 6"? Would that help?

Thanks a lot!

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sevimo(5/6)

Here is close-up of the leaf cluster on top...

    Bookmark   May 16, 2014 at 6:13PM
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casia_nh(5b)

Maybe. I would see if it grows at all this season. Has it done anything since you posted? You can try cutting it back after normal blooming season and see what happens. I'm in the process of replacing a couple of rhodys and I have to admit when they look this bad, they haven't come back. I have a lot of patience, but sometimes it's just easier to start over with a smaller healthier plant. I'm interested to know if anyone has tips for rejuvenating back a plant in this condition.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2014 at 11:51PM
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casia_nh(5b)

Deleted duplicate post.

This post was edited by Casia-NH on Thu, May 22, 14 at 23:54

    Bookmark   May 22, 2014 at 11:52PM
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sevimo(5/6)

I can't say I can see any changes in the last week. Having said that, if the plant would be completely dead, I would expect partially green leafs to become (more) brown, and that is not the case. Am I right?

My spouse wants to replace it, saying that it looks depressing, but I am trying to delay this. I am OK replacing if there is no hope, but I'd rather save the plant than discard/replace it just because it's convenient. And I heard that rhodys may respond well to pruning.

Of course, sometimes you just have to pull the plug ;)

So if you're to heavily prune such plant, how/when would you do it?

Thanks.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2014 at 4:36PM
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smivies

Rhododendrons are quite hard to grow in Toronto because of the unsuitable soil conditions. The pH is almost always alkaline (Rhodos need acidic soil), frequently clay (they need well drained soils), and sometimes sandy (ends up being too dry in summer).

Your rhodo exhibits the typical distressed appearance brought on by the typical Toronto growing conditions. This winter looks like the straw that broke its already very stressed back.

You can grow a lush rhodo in Toronto but you need to plant on a berm or slope of suitable soil that is acidic and very high in organic matter.

This post was edited by smivies on Tue, May 27, 14 at 18:40

    Bookmark   May 27, 2014 at 3:34PM
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sevimo(5/6)

Thanks. We have sandy loam soil in this location (drainage should be just right?), and organic matter content should be fine - soil looked fairly black when we moved in, and since then we've been putting compost, soybean meal and alfalfa pellets everywhere ;)

I didn't test pH in this location (yet), so that certainly can be an issue, but last summer plant was certainly all green and blooming, even though kind of leggy.

Having said that, the question of this particular plant still remains - should I wait on it, prune it extensively, replace/discard? I don't really have any other place to relocate it, so that's not really an option....

P.S. I checked yesterday, and few smaller branches on top are certainly alive - they scratch green.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2014 at 9:18PM
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mikebotann(8a SE of Seattle)

In addition to what smivies said, I would pop it out of the ground and look at the rootball. That should tell you something.
Is it planted too deep?
Where's the mulch?
Mike

    Bookmark   May 28, 2014 at 11:24AM
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jean001a(Portland OR 7b)

Well, popping it out of the ground, will certainly finish it off!
Then there won't be any question about whether to replace it.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2014 at 1:34AM
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akamainegrower

The original photo shows pretty typical, if severe, damage from winter cold, sun and wind. This is something found in many rhododendron varieties throughout those areas of North America which experienced a particularly harsh winter in 2013- 2014. If it's important to try and reseurrect this plant, prune back to live wood and be patient. Trouble is, even if it puts out new growth a second hard winter will very likely be too much for it. You could try potting it so it can be protected for the winter, but all in all replacement is probably the best option.

BTW, popping a rhodendron out of the ground to check the root ball is often a good idea and will not "finish it off" unless it's left lying in the sun.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2014 at 6:09AM
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sevimo(5/6)

If I am to pop it out, what should I be looking for?

Also, for pruning back to live wood - how do I determine where's that? The thing is, there are a few branches on the very top that are definitely alive (by scratch test), but if I do the same with lower branches (older/thicker), all I see is brown, no green. So, where to cut then??

    Bookmark   May 31, 2014 at 4:15PM
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akamainegrower

The root ball should be moist - if it is dry, soak for 30 minutes or so before replanting - and show live, white root tips. It may need to be untangled and/or cut it if it has remained a solid mass shaped like the pot it came from.

You should be able to see very small dormant leaf buds on live branches. Cut just above these. The upper branches that show a green cambium layer are being "fed " by lower portion of the branch which has a functioning vascular system even if no green is apparent. In other words, green above means a live branch below.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2014 at 5:41AM
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kmb55

Can anyone tell me what, if anything, I should do to help this PJM rhododendron? I have 2 and this one seemed to get the most winter damage. They both bloomed but don't have many leaves. Last year they were covered with leaves after blooming. Any advice will be appreciated.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2014 at 3:12PM
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akamainegrower

About the best you can do is prune out any obviously dead wood and be patient. Without any specific information about your location, it's very difficult to give better advice. If you are experiencing a very late spring, these should eventually fill in.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2014 at 5:43AM
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mikebotann(8a SE of Seattle)

Sevimo, when you look at the rootball look where the top of it is in relation to how deep it was planted. I'm seeing stems protruding from the ground in a wide circle, not common in a small rhody, because it was in a pot at one time. A pot a lot smaller than the distance between the stems coming out of the ground. I think it was recently moved to it's present location and planted too deep.
The top of the rootball should be replanted just above the soil and then a mulch applied around it, not touching the stems.
kmb55, your problem looks to be quite different. Start your own thread so that it can be dealt with separately. List your Zone and location also. Looks like you had a very cold winter to me.
Mike...with a garden full of rhododendrons. (In a way different climate)

Here is a link that might be useful: My garden pics

    Bookmark   June 6, 2014 at 7:01AM
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kmb55

Thank you for the advice. We did have a long, cold winter here in western NY (zone 6a). Should I cut all the darker tips off?

    Bookmark   June 7, 2014 at 12:34PM
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