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What to Do About Winter-Damaged Rhododendrons

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Winter did a number on my rhododendrons, which I did not wrap. There are brown, curled leaves and some stem ends appear dead. Should I cut these all off, or what else can I do to improve the shrubs' look?

winter burn rhododendron

Answer: Exposure to harsh sun and wind in winter can cause dry, brown, curled leaves and/or branches. Patience is key as you wait for the plant to bounce back, which it very well may do. In the meantime, you can remove dead leaves to make way for new ones. 

After you've given the plant plenty of time to begin spring growth—waiting until late spring—you can then scratch the bark on dead-looking branches with your fingernail. If there is green wood underneath, the branch is still alive. Leave it in place because it may push out new growth yet. If it's brown underneath, the branch is dead and you can prune it off.

In spring, treat winter-damaged rhododendrons and azaleas with a fertilizer formulated for them, such as Holly-Tone. Follow the package directions—don't give them more than it indicates, because doing so could cause further injury or death. Keep the plants watered if rain is scarce.