Tame out-of-control rhododendrons by pruning in stages
BOSTON — Q. i just purchased a house that has two rhododendrons that are 10 to 12 feet high in the center of the lawn. My problem is that the rhododendrons are blocking the view of the house. Can they be pruned to about 5 feet high?
B.B., Greensboro, N.C.
A. Your rhododendrons can be pruned to a smaller size, but to avoid traumatizing them, do it gradually, rather than all at once, says Dee Daneri of Fortuna, Calif., executive director of the American Rhododendron Society.
Next spring, after the shrubs bloom, cut one-third of the branches back to 3 feet tall. The following two years, do the same thing. By the end of the third spring, you'll have shrubs the size you want.
Because your rhododendrons would look odd if you pruned the right side to 3 feet and left the middle and opposite side tall, Ms. Daneri suggests looking at each shrub as though it were a clock.
The first year, prune the sections that correspond to 12 to 2 and 6 to 8 on a clock face. The next year, cut the sections corresponding to 4 to 6 and 8 to10, finishing up with 2 to 4 and 10 to 12. That way, the unpruned sections help hide the cuts. Daneri warns that this gradual pruning is successful about 80 percent of the time. Not all rhododendrons react favorably. If the first section you prune doesn't sprout new growth, remove the plants and start over.
Once the shrubs are the desired size, keep them that way by pruning the new leaf growth each year.
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