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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Wednesday - October 18, 2006

From: Ardsley , NY
Region: Northeast
Topic: Propagation
Title: Restoring and propagating rhododendrons
Answered by: Joe Marcus

QUESTION:

I have 70+ year old native rhododendrons (16+ feet high) in my backyard. After all these years they are beginning to get dammaged by snow load and ice. Therefore I have 2 quesitons concerning these bushes that I absolutely love: 1) I would like to propogate baby plants from these giants - what is the best method to do so and where can I find step by step directions on the process? 2) I don't want to lose any of these wonderful giants - what can I do to ensure their continued health as they get to be 'senior citizens'? Specifically they are beginning to get flattened by the snow and ice and are no longer upright. Any suggestions? Thank you so much!

ANSWER:

You are to be commended for you dedication to preserving your wonderful old rhododendrons!

You have several choices for propagating your plants. Seed propagation may be possible if your rhododendrons produce seeds that you can collect. However, it is often difficult to find viable seed on some species. Cutting propagation is a good alternative and allows for a lot of choices about where to plant the offspring, etc. Like seed propagation though, cutting propagation is not without difficulties. For most species, timing is critical and often only trial-and-error will yield success. Ground layering and air layering are probably the most fool-proof methods of propagating rhododendrons.

You can find a lengthy discussion of each of these techniques on this Fraser South Rhododendron Society web page.

Rhododendrons should be pruned after they finish flowering in the spring. Yours probably could use a good pruning. However, due to the advanced age of your plants, you will want to be judicious about cutting them back. Limbs that have been crushed, bent or broken by snow and ice should be removed. Otherwise, prune your plants with the goal in mind of reshaping them and removing old, diseased or unproductive limbs..

Here is a link to a nice web page devoted to care and pruning of mature rhododendrons.
 

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