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Rhododendron leaves curled and dry looking

Posted by bonitaapplebum z5 MA (My Page) on
Fri, Mar 31, 06 at 16:55

I planted a Rhododendron shrub last spring, it looked nice at the nursery (and was in flower at the time) but it seemed to poop out over the summer. It looked pretty tired, and dropped a number of leaves. I didn't do anything over the winter but mulch it.

Now it's spring again, and the leaves are awfully dry looking, they are curled up. My neighbor's (established) Rhododendrons have nice, normal looking leaves.

Problems I am suspecting are: too much shade, not enough water. What do you think?


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RE: Rhododendron leaves curled and dry looking

  • Posted by morz8 Z8 Wa coast (My Page) on
    Fri, Mar 31, 06 at 18:21

Not enough water. Did you thoroughly loosen the rootball before installing it into the ground so the roots could reach out and establish into the surrounding soil? A compacted rootball can dry out rather quickly and become almost impossible to rewet, even though soil nearby is damp.

A second guess might be planting too deeply and the roots were unable to function. Also, if it was planted in poor drainage and watered too much, enough roots could have rotted that those remaining were unable to sustain the plant.


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Is it a lost cause??

So, can this rhodo be saved???

I spent a lot of money on this shrub, and thought I was watering it adequately. I guess I screwed up, though, because I didn't do much with the root ball... just broke it up a little, but didn't "thoroughly loosen" it by any means. I'll bet that's what the problem is.

Should I dig it out and loosen the rootball now??? Or is this shrub just doomed?

If I killed this thing the first year out my husband is going to be reluctant to spend money on shrubs this spring!!! :(


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RE: Rhododendron leaves curled and dry looking

  • Posted by morz8 Z8 Wa coast (My Page) on
    Fri, Mar 31, 06 at 20:57

Don't beat yourself up, you aren't the first gardener to make this mistake. That network of surface rooting can quickly fill a container; rhododendrons are often purchased rootbound.

I'm not sure if it can be saved not being able to see it, if the plant is not too far gone, it might be rescued by digging it up and replanting, but I admit that would have been better done in Fall than now. Is there anything that looks alive to you? You can scratch with a fingernail on any stems you suspect may be alive, checking for green underneath bark. Remove anything obviously dead with sharp pruners.

To replant, cut any circling roots that may be strangling other roots - the roots need to be opened up. On many root bound containerized rhodys, it's hard to loosen enough roots for it to be helpful, but you can make about four 1" deep slashes with a knife down the length of the rootball sides, or even root prune - cut away about 1/2" from all sides of the rootball and another from the bottom - sharp knife. Put it back in the hole, making sure not to place it deeper than it was originally planted, fill hole with water and make sure the remaining roots are accepting the moisture at this point. Then fill, water well again. Mulch.

I don't know what to say about hubby noticing...Around here if anyone ever asks about the gardening budget, I just point out it might be better not to know and that pretty much ends the conversation.:)


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I'll do my best...

Thanks for the detailed reply. I did a little googling and your advice lines up with a some other info I found... I'll do my best on a rescue mission this weekend.

I thought I'd researched the rhododendron before buying it but I obviously missed a lot! I hope I can save it... we'll see!! I appreciate your help.


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RE: Rhododendron leaves curled and dry looking

Harold Greer who is probably the premier rhododendorn grower on the West Coast says many new rhododendrons die because people let the root ball dry out before they plant them. He recommends that you should thoroughly soak the root ball before planting. Many plants have a root ball that if it dries out, will shed water and never get wet. The other possibility is too much water. It causes the same symptoms. Rhododendrons and azaleas need moist acidic soil with excellent drainage. That is why many people grow them in raised beds with good soil and good drainage and as you have done, good mulch.


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RE: Rhododendron leaves curled and dry looking

  • Posted by morz8 Z8 Wa coast (My Page) on
    Sat, Apr 1, 06 at 0:30

Dr Dave Goheen is another of our West Coast rhody gurus...

" always rough up the root ball before the plant is placed in the planting site. This is necessary to make sure that roots will leave the generally salubrious mixture that they are exposed to in the nursery for the probably less favorable soil conditions of the real world. If the roots do not venture into the surrounding planting site, plants will not thrive and may become stunted and even expire. Making sure the roots are loose and exposed is often overlooked and this can be a source of frustration and failure for both the plant and the grower."


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RE: Rhododendron leaves curled and dry looking

All of the advice you've received about loosening the rootball and watering is excellent. I don't, however, think dryness at the roots is your main problem - last fall was extremely wet throughout New England and everything went into the winter with plenty of water. (It is possible that the rootball became so dry it actually repelled water. This can happen especially if the soil contains a lot of clay and/or peat.) Most likely it was last winter's winds which are the culprit. Even though we had mild temperatures, there were extended periods of high, dessicating winds. This can cause leaves to curl and become so dry they cannot resume their normal shape. If there is green tissue just beneath the bark on the stems, chances are the plant will survive and put out new growth.


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RE: Rhododendron leaves curled and dry looking

I agree with the advice you've received that the rootball has most likely dried out. My own dried-out-rootball story - I had what sounds like the same problem with one of my rhododendrons a long time ago. It's true, the rootballs are usually very dense, and once they dry out, they are very difficult to rehydrate.

It was the same time of year, too, and once I noticed the leaves looking droopy, I dug up the rhododendron (well, pulled it up since the roots hadn't even begun to take hold into the soil). Then I did what was already suggested here -I slashed the rootball and pulled it apart somewhat. Then, I put the whole rootball into a pail of water and let it become saturated (for about an hour).

I planted the rhododendron back in the same spot, and kept my eye on it from then on to be sure that the rootball never dried out again until it was able to become established. It did survive, by the way - and it looks very healthy today - so yes, if your own rhodo hasn't gone too far, it could still survive. I make sure now to never let the rootballs of my rhodos dry out after I plant them, at least until they settle in. Good luck!


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RE: Rhododendron leaves curled and dry looking

I am a little overwhelmed in my yard as I am a novice gardener and have a beautiful Rhododendrum that is at least 20 years old and have only pruned dead branches and removed some dry leaves from the base, but nothing else in the last two years. Another difference with the previous posting of the 40 year old Rhody is that mine definitely has very alive branches, especially in the front as I actually appear to have 4 or 5 different Rhodies lined up in a half circle that I used to think was only one plant. It is at least 8 ft high in some areas and there is a lot of new growth at the roots - small plant bright green foliage seems to cover up the ground where I recently (and very carefully) removed a lot of old mulch and leaves that seemed to be drowning the entire area. It is definitely drying out in certain areas and appears to spread to random spots (most is in the back of the half circle where there is more shade). I cannot identify why these random areas on different branches throughout the different plants drying out. I am still not even very sure whether it is one plant or not.


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