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I think I am killing my rhododendrons. HELP!!!

Posted by anitje MA, zone 5b-6 (My Page) on
Wed, Sep 4, 13 at 13:20

I have a 5-6 foot rhododendron (as well as other plants) that I think I may have killed due to my own stupidity

I planted it spring 2012. I fertilized it mid-July for the first time and then went to Europe for a month. While I was gone it was a very wet summer interspersed with intense heat spells. When I came back I found at least half of it dead or almost dead, with branches devoid of leaves and others with leaves severely wilted and curled. There appears to still be some healthy growth with healthy looking green leaves and even some buds.

I brought a branch to my local nursery and the guy told me that he thought it was a case of phytophthora, but I think I over-fertilized it because I am an idiot. I think I burnt the root system. What do you think?

I also have a couple of climbing hydrangeas that I bought last year that dropped all their leaves, and I wonder if that is normal for this time of year, or if I may have killed those as well.

Is there anything I can do to try to salvage my rhododendron? Should I cut all branches where there are dead or dying leaves to their base or just above any visible healthy foliage? (the lower portion of the plant and the part facing in one direction suffered the most). Or is it hopeless? Is there anything I can do?

Please help save my plant. If you do I promise I will NEVER do this again.

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: I think I am killing my rhododendrons. HELP!!!

It's possible that an excess amount of fertilizer/wrong type of fertilizer did damage the root system. In any case, mid-July is too late for fertilizing. A late flush of soft growth will not have enough time to harden off before winter. Fertilizing in the first year after planting - or any other time - without a soil test indicating a need for it is never a good idea.

The weather conditions you describe are ideal for phytophthora infections, but those that effect the roots would be nearly impossible to diagnose from looking at a leaf. Poor drainage is probably the number one cause of root rot problems, so anything that can be done to improve it would be worthwhile.

Do cut back to healthy green tissue and be patient. The presence of buds is a good sign and it's highly likely that the rhododendrons will recover.

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