Beautiful, too big rhodo: trim or transplant?

layneev(z6 CT)June 7, 2013

This beautiful (to me, anyway:) rhododendron was here when we moved in about ten years ago, and every year it gets bigger and more beautiful, but I'm afraid it's becoming the rhodo that ate the house! From what I read, it's not going to like being trimmed and it's not going to like being moved. I would like to let it just do whatever it wants but I have to live here, too. It's crowded out the azaleas and soon you won't be able to get into the front door. But every year I go back and forth and end up just leaving it alone. I would appreciate any suggestions from the knowledgeable people here. Thanks so much.

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layneev(z6 CT)

Sorry. Trying this. Thanks!

    Bookmark   June 7, 2013 at 4:45PM
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It would be a tough one to move for sure - not impossible, but very difficult. The weight would, I think, be the biggest problem.

Given the size and shape as indicated in the photo, you should be able to trim off a good deal of the top and some of the more horizontal growth on the door side and still have a very attractive plant. You're fortunate that the growth and bloom extends all the way down to the ground - no bare stems need show after trimming. Of course, vigorous new growth may mean annual pruning, but I think I'd choose this option over attempting a move.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2013 at 5:28AM
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layneev(z6 CT)

Thank you so much! Maybe I'll give that a try after all the blooms fall off (the rain helped yesterday). How much do you think would be safe to start with, maybe 5 or 6 inches all around? Or a bit more? Any tips would be welcome, I've never tried to prune either azaleas or rhodos, I was always out there urging them to grow. I'm a little nervous about cutting on the top, I have been known to prune my way to a few artistic disasters:) But I"m glad to have your view, it gives me more confidence. Thanks again. Happy weekend!

    Bookmark   June 8, 2013 at 4:27PM
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I'm not sure, but it looks like like a Catawba rhododendron and they do get big. You do get warnings about pruning them, but mine was hit in Sandy by big falling limbs and cracked a lot of the top of it. A year later there are many new sprouts from the ends of the cut branches and from the base, so I think it is pretty safe to cut the top off yours. If possible, I would cut entire limbs down to the lowest side branch to avoid having stumps sticking out of the top. The best time to prune is usually very early spring/late winter before new growth has started but after any hard frosts. You will be cutting off flower buds at this time, though, so the alternative is to cut it right after bloom, but this is a bit riskier because of the heat it will be in, and it gives new growth less chance to toughen up before freezing.

I think you have almost no chance of successfully transplanting a rhodo of that size, even using a backhoe. It's a beautiful shrub, worth trying to prune it!

    Bookmark   June 8, 2013 at 5:02PM
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layneev(z6 CT)

Thank you for this excellent advice, I was just looking at the rhodo today and thinking, gosh, I don't even know where to begin. Now I do know where to begin, so thank you! Of course, when to begin is still a question:) We have had such weird weather, I'm sure whenever I do it will be wrong. I might do it soon, while I am inspired and encouraged by the advice from you and akamainegrower, and just hope it doesn't get too hot too soon, and I can keep it well watered. That way I won't have to steel myself to lop off those big fat buds. But if I can't get it done before it really gets warm (if it ever really gets warm here), I'll do it at the proper time, in late winter. Thank you again!

    Bookmark   June 9, 2013 at 2:32PM
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For what it's worth, I think you'd be better off doing it now. This does look like catawbiense, a late blooming species, so you'll be pruning it just at the right time: as it begins its seasonal growth surge. And you won't be cutting off any of next year's flower buds.

As far as how much to take off, that's pretty much up to you. The photo shows a kind of round central growth at the top. I think you could take nearly all of this off and still have a very presentable plant as long as you trim to a point below the main horizontal growth. If that seems like too much, do less this year and some more next year.

I wouldn't worry about doing something wrong. R. Catawbiense is a tough, adaptable species and you still have at least four months of good growing weather ahead. As for watering, you're going to have all of the present root system and less top growth. That should mean less of a need for water. You will get a lot of new spindly growth that will wilt in the sun. It will survive as it matures. Don't unnecessarily flood with water thinking it's getting too dry. Just water as you would have if you'd never pruned.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2013 at 4:20PM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

If necessary, you can remove a great deal of material. It is a general rule to not remove over 1/3 of the leaf area each year. This should also leave adequate buds to provide plenty of bloom. Pruning is generally used to control unsatisfactory height and/or width of a plant. I don't prune very often and try to limit pruning to plants which have a shape that is unsatisfactory or dead branches. If I want to cut trusses for bouquets, I always cut the tallest flowers since this helps keep the plant within bounds.

To reduce the height, look for large branches about where you want the top to be and cut them back about a foot lower than that point. This leaves the smaller branches that will form the new top, but takes out the large branches that give it the excess height.

The same goes for the width. Try to cut out the larger branches and leave the smaller ones. In other words, be selective, don't cut all branches like you would with a hedge.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2013 at 6:34PM
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layneev(z6 CT)

I am printing out each of your messages, thank you SO much. These are the very specific instructions I really need and it's so hard to get them!

Now to follow them!

I'll post a picture of my finished work (unless I mess it up too much:) Thanks again, I really do appreciate your help very much.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2013 at 2:35PM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

I would prune it as a tree rather than continually trying to subdue it as an overgrown bush. What a chore.Take out the lower branches and open it up, showing a lot of the trunk. Think giant bonsai tree. Have fun with it rather than seeing it as work. You will get sprouting along the trunk in a few weeks, but that can be rubbed off as soon as you see it.
You can shorten the branches a bit to prevent them from breaking with a snow load.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2013 at 1:54AM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

Botann has hit on one way to subdue it and make it into a smaller bush.

If you do make it into a "tree". Then prune the top severely, It will send up shoots from the roots and form a new bush under the tree. Then the tree can be removed leaving the bush underneath.

Personally I would cut it back about 1/3 every year right after blooming until it was the shape I wanted. It is a very healthy looking specimen.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2013 at 6:52PM
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That is a lovely rhody. I say if you want to move it go for it. Rhodies have shallow roots & transplant readily, though are a workout! I hope our successful transplanting encourages you to do the same. I don't regret it at all!

We moved at least seven 30 year old rhodies just after Father's Day that were either planted too close together, to the front porch (soon to be replaced), to the house or to the driveway. All were over 15' tall and had been inappropriately pruned for the past 4 years with heading back cuts as well as topping. Some were growing at a 45 degree angle. Others were intertwined with each other showing lots of spaghetti branches as a result of the malpruning in recent years.

I did prune in May prior to the transplanting. I first removed dead wood as well as any of the heading back cuts that left jagged edges or stabbing branches to make sure my family members would be safe when working. The intertwined branches were removed so we could transplant one shrub at a time. I cut some of the lower branches that were thin and would be in the way when working.

Dug after a soaking rain, dug a trench all around then used pry bars to see if we had the rootball, tied large dimeter nylon rope around trunk & attached a chain to the rope for our Suburban to help drag it while 2 others pulled the rope

Pulled them to the side yard where we had dug a large shallow pt about 12" deep or so, then spread well rotted horse manure compost, topsoil & wood chips to fill in and wood chip mulch.

Of course, we watered deeply during our dry summer. Just one showed wilt now and then as it was just finishing bloom when we moved it. All have survived along with 3 Pyracantha and 2 David's Viburnum with one of those being over 5' wide.

We were really pleased with the way it opened up the front of the home to let in more light & created a more welcoming entrance. Now that the front porch is replaced we've been spreading compost over cardboard in preparation for planting. I don't yet have photos, but will post on the Landscape Design below to update.

Here is a link that might be useful: landscape makeover

    Bookmark   September 20, 2013 at 7:28PM
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