Transplanting an established Rhododendron
We had an oil tank removed and had to dig up and replant a 20+ year old rhododendron. It is in the ground again and we mixed leaf gro and compost in the new hole. Do I need to prune it? I was going to remove all the buds so the plant focuses on growing new roots and not blooming. Any other ideas? Thanks. Deb
Anne Arundel County Maryland
We do not recommend pruning, as this may work against the encouragement of new root growth so the plant re-establishes faster. (The more above-ground growth points a plant possesses, the more growth hormone can be produced and sent down to the roots to signal them to "catch up.") Similarly, dis-budding the existing flower buds is not needed as the resources required to form them have already been used (and this process began weeks or months ago) and their removal will not save the plant any energy; the flower buds only uptake water to expand and open in spring, and are otherwise fully-formed now, just dormant. (If a few open later this fall, that's a normal quirk some Rhododendrons exhibit as is not of concern. If a few blast - or desiccate, brown, and die - over the winter, that may simply be a sign that not enough roots established before the surface soil froze.) Since the new leaf/stem buds lie just beneath the flower buds, removal of the flower buds would also risk damaging or removing these growth buds, so for this reason as well it's best to leave them alone.
The most important aspect of its care from this point on is simply to monitor the plant's watering needs, feeling the soil first around a finger's depth down (or up to a trowel's depth) and soaking the root area well when that depth becomes fairly dry. If you haven't already, top-dressing with a light (about 2") layer of mulch over the root area will help moderate temperatures and minimize evaporation; keep mulch from touching the stem bases(s).