Rhododendrons: leggy R. catawbiense recovering, need advice

Discussion in 'Ericaceae (rhododendrons, arbutus, etc.)' started by Ms. Blair, May 10, 2007.

  1. Ms. Blair

    Ms. Blair Member

    Messages:
    8
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Washington, DC
    A neighbor, whose rhodo I greatly admired, dug it up in March, 2007 -- just the wrong time -- and gave it to me. He wanted something smaller. It had bloomed very beautifully, but had grown spindly. Because of his own illness he had neglected to prune it. It survived the horrible winter of 2006-07 in Washington, DC -- 80 degree heat in December then below zero in January, then too hot in February, followed by cool March. So this rhodo is a trooper. It did not deserve to be yanked out of the ground when he yanked it. Not only that -- he dug it up badly, not getting all the roots!
    There were 9 fat buds on 6 bare branches of this leggy, 3 feet tall plant. The branches arel bald until the very top, where leaves are healthy. Two florets of weak-looking leaves emanate at the base of the plant. These have not changed much.
    I transplated it in early March into superb light acid soil, under dappled shade, removed all the flower buds, and prayed that some root system will be formed over the course of the coming year or two. So far the leaves have become firm and new growth has appeared at the tops of each long branch. My question is this: the entire plant looks like a giraffe -- spindly except at the very top. But I feel I cannot cut it back because the plant needs its leaves to help it form roots. When -- if ever -- and how -- can I begin to re-shape this once-glorious purple-blooming rhodo so that it can be its full self? Is it possible to cut it back to near the ground after its (hoped for) blooming time in May, 2008? (I doubt this but do not know rhododendrons).
     
  2. KarinL

    KarinL Well-Known Member 10 Years

    Messages:
    1,058
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Vancouver
    You could maybe cut back a couple of branches this year - right about now, so new growth has time to harden up for winter. Sounds as if you have long term commitment to the plant - lucky plant! - so you can do this over a period of a couple of years.
     
  3. Ms. Blair

    Ms. Blair Member

    Messages:
    8
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Washington, DC
    Thank you so much. I will cognitate about cutting perhaps a couple of the branches. Every morning I go out and look, and now every morning and there is more growth. But the idea of cutting anything this year when its roots are so little established gives me great pause.
    I think a long-term commitment to a plant is a little like being a long-term investor in the stock market. (The definition of a long-term investor is someone whose stock has just taken a dive!)
    Of course I did see this plant in its glory, and I remember how divinely beautiful its flowers were. I have never owned a rhododendron in my life -- it's quite a thrill!
     
  4. KarinL

    KarinL Well-Known Member 10 Years

    Messages:
    1,058
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Vancouver
    If you are uncomfortable about it you can easily wait a year. Far be it from me to talk you out of your comfort zone, and I do live in a different climate. Your concerns may be warranted. And even very old branches of Rhodos can be cut back and will resprout, so there is no rush. And that's a good definition of a long-term investor :-) but with a plant, it is more about giving it a secure home for a foreseeably long period, and undertaking to care for it until it can care for itself.

    There are a lot of books about growing Rhododendrons; you might check out your library or bookstore, and good garden centres may also carry a selection of books.
     
  5. Ms. Blair

    Ms. Blair Member

    Messages:
    8
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Washington, DC
    Dear Karin L,
    Thanks so much for your second helpful comment. I will definitely explore rhodo texts at the Library, and perhaps also online. Yes -- our climate in D.C. is problematic in two respects for the rhododendron. We are subject to long droughts. And our summers are way too hot. The third respect doesn't always hit -- a very warm winter with sudden plunges into freezing temperature with high drying winds. I sound like a farmer, don't I -- with farmers it's always something -- usually about the weather. Again, many thanks.
     
  6. Chris Klapwijk

    Chris Klapwijk Active Member 10 Years

    Messages:
    266
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Surrey, B.C., Canada
    KarinL, I hate to be at odds with you, but not all rhododendrons will resprout when cut back, read this thread.
     
  7. KarinL

    KarinL Well-Known Member 10 Years

    Messages:
    1,058
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Vancouver
    Heavens, Chris, you should not hesitate even slightly to be at odds with me, especially if you have better information which, when the topic is Rhodos, is almost inevitable. I have been hoping someone else would chime in.

    While I have cut back my own rhododendrons successfully and heard often and from reliable sources (including Brian Minter, local gardening guru) that they can be relied on to sprout, I have not heard before of varieties that don't, and like someone on that earlier thread would love to know what they are.

    Actually, I may be able to guess at one - the one my dad went out and cut to the ground (and I do mean the ground) after listening to Brian Minter, of whom he is (or perhaps was) a fervent admirer. Mind you, just because my dad heard Minter say "to the ground" does not mean that this is what Minter said.
     
  8. Chris Klapwijk

    Chris Klapwijk Active Member 10 Years

    Messages:
    266
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Surrey, B.C., Canada
    Ms. Blair, the above indicates the plant is trying very hard to resprout. Leave the plant alone for this year, keep it well-watered and allow it to settle into its new environment. Next year cut the 3 tallest branches to the ground, and cut the remaining 3 the year after, the growth at the bottom will have time to establish itself over this period.

    To prevent the new growth from becoming leggy, remove the apical growth buds from the two bottom branches, this will force the dormant lateral buds to develop, resulting in a more compact plant.

    KarinL, we use our experience with rooting cuttings when judging the likelyhood for success when pruning and subsequent resprouting. The easiest to root cuttings seem to be from plants that respond the best to severe pruning.
     
  9. Ms. Blair

    Ms. Blair Member

    Messages:
    8
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Washington, DC
    Dear KarinL and Chris Klapwijk,

    Thanks both immensely. Chris, I had actually found the long thread you just most kindly sent along -- and read it avidly days ago. Your detailed comment on my particular leggy plant is icing on the cake -- thank you very, very much. I will do as you say. This rhodo is not terribly old -- at most 4 years -- so it probably wants to be a large plant. But it does not have any very obvious bud possibilities in the long, bare branches, which made me already sceptical that new growth would appear if I were to cut any of them back now.
    I want to understand your instruction "To prevent the new growth from becoming leggy, remove the apical growth buds from the two bottom branches...". My dictionary helps me understand "apical" -- from the same latin root as "apex" -- meaning the growth bud at the end of the new lower branches -- the ones that (we are hoping) will sprout out from the base after (any) blooming in 2008. Not the flower bud, but the growth bud. (I'm familiar with camellias, where the growth bud and the flower bud appear close together.)
    In the few days since I last wrote, the two somewhat insignificant leaf florets coming out of the base of the plant have suddenly become larger, bright green, and are growing! In addition, one leggy branch I had feared might actually be dead (because a month ago a light scratch of the bark of that branch did not show "green" inside) has now sprouted growth at its apex. Thrills.
    I can't thank you enough, both of you -- and for being reminded of all the questions in the second thread Chris introduced -- for your minute attention to this, my lucky rhododendron. It is immensely gratifying to have directions to follow that seem to come from experience and minute attention!
    Sincerely,
    Ms.Blair
     
  10. Chris Klapwijk

    Chris Klapwijk Active Member 10 Years

    Messages:
    266
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Surrey, B.C., Canada
    Ms. Blair,

    It makes no difference, the result will be the same. Removal of the apical bud, whether growth or flower bud, will force the latent axillary (synonymous with lateral) buds to develop, see attached picture of new growth on our R. catawbiense 'Grandiflorum'.

    I have also attached a picture of the same plant showing its growth habit, it should be in full bloom by the end of this week.
     

    Attached Files:

  11. Ms. Blair

    Ms. Blair Member

    Messages:
    8
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Washington, DC
    Dear Chris,
    Beautiful pictures, thank you. I have noted your further remarks about apical and lateral buds. My plant has now started to resemble your left-hand photo in all its apexes! I am greatly encouraged.
    Ms. Blair
     
  12. Chris Klapwijk

    Chris Klapwijk Active Member 10 Years

    Messages:
    266
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Surrey, B.C., Canada
    Addendum to my last post:

    for years I mistakenly thought 'Grandiflorum' was a variety of the species R. catawbiense. I just found out it is a hybrid of R. catawbiense with an unknown pollen donor, therefore my plant should be referred to as R. 'Catawbiense Grandiflorum', not as previously quoted.
     
  13. Ms. Blair

    Ms. Blair Member

    Messages:
    8
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Washington, DC
    Noted. Thanks. The donor of my own plant is not certain what it is. I found a label on the pot in which he gave it to me, and the appearance of my (albeit leggy version) seemed to match photos found online. Donor is currently searching his records, certain he will eventually find the notes he made.
     
  14. Ms. Blair

    Ms. Blair Member

    Messages:
    8
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Washington, DC
    Re: leggy R. catawbiense is actually a Colonel Coen

    Dear Chris,
    News bulletin: my rhodo is a Colonel Coen. The news just arrived from my neighbor. Does this ID change any of your advice about pruning?
    Sincerely,
    Ms. Blair
     
  15. Chris Klapwijk

    Chris Klapwijk Active Member 10 Years

    Messages:
    266
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Surrey, B.C., Canada
    R. 'Colonel Coen' is a hybrid of unknown parentage, possibly a ponticum hybrid, source: Rhododendron Hybrids, Second Edition, Salley and Greer, 1992.

    No, pruning-to-shape principles may be applied to all rhododendrons.
     
  16. Ms. Blair

    Ms. Blair Member

    Messages:
    8
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Washington, DC
    Merveilleux. Merci mille fois. I will look it up myself, thanks for the reference.
    Ms. Blair
     

Share This Page