Firewise-How to Prune Rhododendron

Montreat’s Firewise Initiative:  Montreat has plenty of fuel for a fast-spreading wildfire – in particular, leaves, mountain laurel, and rhododendron.  Our initiative is designed to raise awareness among Montreat residents and to encourage each other to do what we can to reduce the potential for a destructive fire.

Wondering when to prune rhododendron?  Right after the bushes are finished blooming is the best time to do any pruning they may need.  Tools you need are simple – hand clippers and loppers.  If you need to remove larger bushes, then a saw may be required.

These shrubs make blooms that flower on the prior year’s wood. So you have to be careful when pruning them since buds for next spring will be made this summer, and you don’t want to prune those off. Don’t wait to prune your rhododendrons until late summer or even later, or you probably won’t get the flowers you’re looking for next year.

For rhododendrons with large leaves, you want to prune right above their “growth joints,” the place where the plant is starting to grow. Just beneath that point is where dormant buds are, so take care not to cut them off. Small-leafed rhododendrons can be pruned anywhere along their stems.

Cutting back a rhododendron heavily can stop the plant from flowering for a year or two. There are, however, two advantages to heavy pruning.  First, they will come back low and full, and then you can keep them that way if they are close to your house.  Second, you can prune pretty heavily if needed to get better shape for your bushes.  The objective of our Firewise program is to have them at least 10 feet from your house; more is better.

What should you prune away? Check the inside limbs for any that are dead or look weak. Any limbs on the ground or crossing over other limbs should be pruned away, too. You’ll be giving your bush better air circulation and a less hospitable environment for insects and disease.

Remember that the Town of Montreat will haul away brush every other Wednesday.  So get those loppers out and lets have healthier rhododendron and less fuel for a fire!!

Please send Nancy Midgette a quick email (midgette@elon.edu) to report the work that you did and the hours that you spent doing it!  We report these hours every year to update our Firewise Status with the N. C. Forest Service.

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