Hello! New to MN gardening and live in Hermantown, MN near Duluth. I planted...

Asked May 11, 2015, 3:49 PM EDT

Hello! New to MN gardening and live in Hermantown, MN near Duluth. I planted 2 rhododendron last spring/summer and they looked BEAUTIFUL all summer and grew at least 6 inches over the summer. They looked 'fine' until about mid april this year when all the leaves dropped on them (or deer ate the tops). At this point, some of the branches snap off (assuming dead branches) while others seem pliable. I see no leaves and/or buds as of this point in mid May. Have they died? Or do I need to be patient and wait for *something* to happen?

St. Louis County Minnesota

3 Responses

Depending on how far from the lake you live, you are in zone 3b or 4a, but are probably in 3b. The hardiest of rhododendrons, PJM is one popular variety, are considered root hardy to zone 4. Buds and branches can die at lower temperatures if they are not protected. Last winter was not very harsh temperature-wise, but we had very little of the protecting snow that we depend on.

It is likely that your buds and branches died, most likely from the cold. Deer may have "pruned" them, but if the branches snap they are dead. The flexible branches may or may not be viable. You could scrape a little of the bark off to see if there is a thin green layer right below it. If there is, the branch is not yet totally dead, but might be dying. If the buds are all gone you won't get any flowers this year (they are set the previous year), so you might want to cut the plants back a few inches and see if they rebound.

If the plants are listed as being hardy in zone 5 or above, as are many that are sold in the big box stores near you, I would recommend you return them and save yourself a lot of heartache. If they are zone 4 and are not yet dead, you should be able to get them to bloom next year. You would have to cover them with burlap, bagged or shredded leaves, snow, or something similar next fall. This will also protect them from deer, but not rabbits and mice.

Rhododendrons also need good drainage. This spring has not been one where we have had to be concerned with standing water from melting snow or rains, but that will also kill them.

Here is some information on growing rhododendrons and azaleas in Minnesota, including varieties that work well in our area: http://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/yard-garden/flowers/azaleas-rhododendrons-for-minnesota/

Feel free to reply if you have additional questions.

Thank you for the information...I checked the branches and *some* seem to have green, but I have a feeling these plants are not going to make it.

Appreciate your information and confirmation of my suspicion...bummer, really love rhododendrons.

I also love rhododendrons/azaleas but the ones I grew in Woodland were easier than the ones I now have in Twig. They do well if I cover them, or if a good snowfall does it for me.

Don't give up. There are some lovely ones that can grow in our area. Just don't tell the deer.