Despite the common notion that rhododendrons can't be pruned, these shrubs respond well to trimming.
I learned to prune rhododendrons by destroying my prized rock garden. I had a 30-foot-tall pine that I needed to cut down. It missed the house by a wide margin, but it didn't miss the rock garden, which I had lovingly tended for years.
When the last of the pine tree was removed, I discovered that the damage was surprisingly slight, except for a beautiful Rhododendron 'Roseum Elegans', now a 2-foot mound of broken branches and torn foliage. Curious to see if the shrub would recover on its own, I trimmed it back a bit, cut back the scaffold of branches to as pleasing a shape as possible, and waited to see what would happen. Four years later, the rhododendron is one of the most eye-catching shrubs in the yard, with a beautiful shape, dense branches, and plentiful flowers. The incident illustrates how responsive rhododendrons can be to even severe pruning.
There are three common reasons for pruning rhododendrons—maintenance, shaping, and rejuvenation—and the pruning method for each is easy to learn. The result is a shrub with dense branching, plentiful foliage, and abundant flowers. And you don't have to drop a pine tree on your shrub border to learn how to do it.
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