Need pruning advice - keep cutting?

basilno(4)June 20, 2014

I'm trying to reshape a rhodo that had a lot of tall branches (it was too thick in the interior of the plant so there were a lot of branches that grew very tall but had leaves only at the top). I've cut the taller ones back, there are still a lot of spindly branches that criss cross. How much of the leaves can I remove and have it come back?

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    Bookmark   June 20, 2014 at 5:05PM
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Another one

    Bookmark   June 20, 2014 at 5:06PM
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Looking at the branchs on the ground,I would stop until next winter while it's dormant. If there is no leaves below a cut that has already been made it doesn't hurt to cut again closer to the ground. After it is shaped as you want it,in following years take into consideration while pruning. Blooms are produced mostly on last year's growth. Do major pruning to shape plant while dormant and remove spent blooms during growing season.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2014 at 5:22PM
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So keep the long spindly branches with a single set of leaves at the end for now and remove them in the winter?

    Bookmark   June 20, 2014 at 6:20PM
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"So keep the long spindly branches with a single set of leaves at the end for now and remove them in the winter?"

Yes. In 3 years the plant will look better and be healthier than if shaped now. The roots need nourishment that only leaves can furnish. Not beating on you but plants suffer because we pay them little attention while they are dormant and can be pruned then we get out our tools when leaves are set and plant look odd. There are a few flowering and fruit bareing plants we need to prune mid growing season but thats exceptional.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2014 at 12:04AM
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Funny I thought you were supposed to prune them now (after flowering). Oh well, will plan on finishing the job next winter.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2014 at 8:28AM
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morz8(Washington Coast Z8b)

Flower buds for rhododendron are set in summer to late summer, none bloom on current growth....

I think I would have gone about the pruning differently and started with the lower spindly branches, then reduced the height. In theory (and certainly here where its mild and rhododendrons grow so easily) you can cut them down to a few inches and healthy established plants will resprout and grow. But that's not without risk, and it's easily a couple of years before your shrub is attractive and blooming again.

I would go ahead and remove some of those lower whippy and crossing branches, or at least cut them back, improve the shape you've left.

With rhododendron, their growth buds form in the leaf axils (where leaf joins stem). If you are making minor repairs to shape, cut just above a leaf rosettes and new growth will emerge form the dormant eyes there. If you have to cut into a branch below any leaf rosettes, look for faint rings on the bark which mark where there once were leaves. Careful inspection should reveal small bumps - the dormant growth buds just under the bark. Cut just above those faint rings if you can find them so the dormant buds will be stimulated into growth. If you cannot find them, make your cuts where you must, you may have to go back later and cut bare stubs down to new growth once that has taken place.

It will take about a month for dormant buds to begin to grown on smaller limbs, up to 10 weeks for heavier main stems.

While winter pruning is possible in mild climates, there's really no advantage to it with an evergreen plant. You're a Z4? Winter pruning rhododendron is not recommended in your zone but rather Spring and you are approaching being late for pruning now. You want to give new growth the longest possible growing and maturing season before the onset of cold weather again, also winter cold damage is more severe around pruning wounds than on unpruned parts of the plant - it's not appropriate for colder climates.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2014 at 7:18PM
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mikebotann(8a SE of Seattle)

Morz8's advice is right on, and I too would have approached the pruning in a different way. You're forcing it to be a small shrub so you can have an uninterrupted view from your deck. What's wrong with a little peek-a-boo? I would have pruned it to a small, well behaved, tree I could see through rather than a butchered, cutback, overgrown shrub with a ruined branching pattern.
In addition, I would cut the lawn out some more to allow the rhododendron to spread out so you don't have to cut it back to stay in bounds.
If none of the options above will work for you, then move it.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 7:03PM
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Thanks that's helpful.

I should clarify- the goal wasn't to reduce the height (I'm hoping it will regain its height) but to improve the shape (the issue was all of the tall branches with leaves only at the top because the undergrowth was so thick). In all honesty I'm not sure I could have reached the lower spindly cross crosses without reducing the height (and once some of the tall branches were removed the remaining ones looked even more ridiculous).

Given what's done is done, how much of the spindly stuff should I take out now? (We like the bush and it's long term health/ shape is more important to us than it's immediate appearance)? I'd like to reshape it more but don't want to further jeopardize it's health?


    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 8:38PM
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mikebotann(8a SE of Seattle)

You can cut it back as much as you want at this time and not jeopardize it's health. Get it the shape you want and stand back. Cutting it later this year and the new growth won't have time to harden for the winter and you will have a lot of dieback come spring. do your cutting now.
I'm just about done pruning my rhododendrons for this season and won't begin again until winter in my zone.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 9:01PM
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