The Pacific Northwest has one of the finest rhododendron growing climates in the country. They are an integral part of many landscapes, and their variety is astounding. As the bloom season winds down in early June, it signals a perfect time to groom and prune your rhododendrons to keep them from outgrowing their space.
There are two types of rhododendrons. Elepidotes are large leaved rhododendrons. These are the types of plants that most individuals would associate as being a rhododendron. Elepidotes hold their leaves in whorls. Plants can become quite large over time. Lepidote rhododendrons have smaller leaves and are usually lower growing. Their leaves and branching rise from buds all along their branches. This group includes evergreen azaleas.
This time of year, as your rhododendrons finish blooming, you can keep them looking their best by doing some grooming. On elepidote rhododendrons, the flowers are often born in clusters, known as trusses. Breaking off the spent bloom trusses sends energy from seed production into growth. This process is known as deadheading. Lepidote rhododendrons usually drop their spent flowers naturally, or during dry weather, they can be brushed off the plant.
This is also a good time to prune rhododendrons. Light pruning now will not adversely affect next year’s bloom set. Elepidote rhododendrons can be pinched to promote compactness. To do this, break off single growth shoots. The the bud will push again, usually with multiple, shorter shoots rather than the single long shoot. Lepidote rhododendrons can be pruned anywhere along their branches.
Thank you. I have always wondered about the best rhody care practices, now I know!
Before or after blooming? Frankly, my wife is a minimalist and would like to cut them like a hedge, as soon as we can get out there, cutting down the branches with buds that would bloom in another month. The article, written in May as much as I can tell, says “This time of year,”. The rhodies I have have not bloomed yet. My favorite, Lavender May, is on the north side of the house and no where near, so due to lack of light, reaching for the sky too much. Oh well. Just cut down most of the branches. They had buds on them. Please be a little more specific for … ahem… people who haven’t the experience….
Daniel, in our area, many rhododendrons are usually at the end of their bloom by mid-May. This year we’ve been a little cooler, so blooms are hanging on. Small leaved rhododendrons (lepidotes) can be pruned like a hedge, shearing just after bloom. They have many buds along every branch that will sprout. On the larger leaved rhododendrons (elepidotes), whose leaves are in whorls and hold their flowers in trusses, the timing is the same, but cuts must be made above visible buds for greatest success. The key is pruning just after bloom.
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Excellent article. I’m experiencing a few of these issues as well..|
It’s early August and I just moved into a Seattle property with many rhododendrons that have not been pruned for some time and are very leggy. When may I prune them?
Prune just as they start to grow next spring, just after flowering. Pruning then should stimulate dormant buds to grow. Pruning now could result in wood that is not hardened off for winter.
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Question. I have a epi Rhody that grew with 2 long branches and very little compactness. It does have new leaves growing out of the base of the plant. I want to prune the two big branches back but that will mean taking all the leaves on those big branches. Will new leaves grow on those branches or do I need to leave some leaves.
If there are visible buds along the branches, you can prune to a bud, and those buds will push some leaves. Timing- prune just after flowering, so the plant is ready to push new growth.
Thanks. Just what I wanted to know.
I have an old epi rhodo in my backyard – probably 35 years or more – it has become very leggy and is taking over the yard! Reading up on pruning, one site says “spring – after flowering”, while another will advise “in winter”. If I prune in winter, I will remove all the next spring blossoms, am I correct? I am a bit confused as everyone is giving different time for doing it. Can you please clarify? Thank you.
Our experience with cutting rhododendrons back hard is that just after flowering has the most success. This is when the plant normally grows, so its energy is going to go into the remaining growth buds. Even pruning then, you may not see flowering for another year or two. Be sure to cut just above visible buds for best regrowth.
Would it be possible to publish pictures of the process? I deadhead the spent flowers and multiple, sticky side shoots take off. I want to maintain it’s current size and get blooms next season. Thank you.
I don’t have still pictures, but the video demonstrates the process.
I would like to do a major reduction to a rhody (cut down thick branches to about 4ft tall). I have seen this done and the results were pretty good as far as new growth from the shortened thick branches however, I don’t know of Spring is the best time to do this.
Look for buds along the stems and cut just above those. Timing is right after flowering as the first growth push is happening.
My Rhododendron didn’t do so well last year, has it pretty much in full sunlight. So in the hall I moved it hoping it would rejuvenate. It hasn’t. It’s gotten leggy with some leaves, no blooms. What should I do? Is it too late in Missouri to do a rejuvenation pruning?
It’s not too late to rejuvenate Rhododendrons here in Whatcom Co. WA. You should check with your local master gardener extension or other local gardening service for issues in Missouri.