Can our large rhododendron be saved after severe deer damage?

Asked April 19, 2015, 6:41 PM EDT

We have several rhododendron bushes averaging about 7 to 8 feet in height. This winter while we were in Florida the deer ate all the leaves from the ground up to about 4 feet high. The uneaten leaves at the top of the bushes are now starting to brown up and appear to be dying. Is there any chance these will ever recover? Is there anything I can do to help them back to health. Any help appreciated. Thank you

Columbia County Pennsylvania

1 Response

Deer damage is worse this past year due to the long, extended cold period. Deer don't have teeth and tend to gnaw off the leaves and buds. In this process they might have dislodged the plants and/or disturbed their root system. We have also been experiencing a very dry period the last few months and that be a contributing factor.

Finally, in addition to the above the rhodo's might be suffering from from Botryosphaeria dieback and/or winter damage. You may want to review the following publication for more information.

http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/450/450-726/450-726_pdf.pdf

You should scratch the bark of some of the heavily damaged branches. If it is brown (dead) under the bark, prune it out. If it is green, leave it and hopefully it will recover.
If there are any buds remaining on the top of the plant allow them to mature and blossom. after the normal bloom period is over prune the plant to a desired shape and have patience.
Rhododendrons are slow to recover, but they usually do. Provide supplemental irrigation during dry periods and hope for the best.

Good luck.