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Can You Cut Rhododendrons To The Ground?

Finding the best ways to ensure your garden looks good throughout the year can be difficult. Do you have rhododendrons you want to prune but don't know how close to the ground you can cut them? Is it okay to severely trim this species? Should you cut it down to the ground?

Well, we've done some research and have the answers to these questions below!

In general, cutting rhododendrons to the ground is not a good idea. Instead, we recommend pruning yours down to six inches from the soil.

However, you don't need to do heavy pruning for this plant unless it's essential, so leaving your rhododendron alone is also perfectly acceptable.

Not all rhododendrons can survive extreme trimming or shaping, so keep this in mind while gardening.

As we start this post, we will cover all things rhododendrons and discuss how much to prune one. Whether you're new to this species, want to overwinter, or have related questions, we're here to offer some guidance. With that said, let's dive right into this topic!

A bud growth after Rhododendron shrub pruning, Can You Cut Rhododendrons To The Ground?

How Far Back Should You Cut A Rhododendron?

Most often, you want to stick with light pruning for rhododendrons. As we said, you can sometimes cut back your plant to roughly six inches from the soil, although this isn't always necessary.

According to gardening pros, you want to focus on cutting just above a latent bud or, even better, a cluster of buds on a rhododendron.

Since this plant produces flowers, severe pruning throughout the year can cause stunted growth or even no blooms. Therefore, you want to keep this light and avoid messing with your plant while it blooms.

Like any flowering plant, rhododendrons are delicate towards their buds and blooms, and you shouldn't be too aggressive with the amount of plant you remove.

It's also worth mentioning that cutting back a rhododendron to six inches from the ground is more for rejuvenation than yearly maintenance, so this shouldn't happen annually.

New bud growth after Rhododendron shrub pruning

What Is The Best Way To Prune A Rhododendron?

For those who want to give their rhododendron proper pruning, there are some factors to remember. First, you want to focus on leggy or overgrown sections of your flowering shrub.

Avoid cutting too close to any buds or blooms, as this can stun them. Furthermore, it's also a good idea to wait until your plant stops producing new flowers to do any heavy shaping.

On top of that, cut just above that set of leaves and about ¼ inch above the topmost leaf in that cluster on your rhododendron. The key here is cleaning up an overgrown bush rather than over-shaping one.

Some gardeners also prefer to have fewer flowers at once on their rhododendron, so in that case, they give their plant a light prune after it begins blooming.

Again, you don't need to mess with a rhododendron during its blooming season, but if you want to maintain a specific shape or size, this might be impossible.

Can You Cut A Rhododendron All The Way Back?

If your rhododendron becomes too large to handle, this is when you can cut it back. As we mentioned, you want to leave around six inches from the ground on your plant, so it doesn't die, but this is doable.

As a rhododendron matures, it can become too big to handle. Therefore, severe pruning might be your only way to reshape your shrub to a more manageable size.

That said, giving your plant such a severe prune has some drawbacks. According to experts, your rhododendron may not look as beautiful as it does pre-trim for 2-3 years.

Since you're essentially shocking your flowering shrub, this will take a long time to recover from.

Your rhododendron will feel the effects of this heavy shaping for months, if not years, to come, so this might not be the best idea if you value a yearly bloom.

What Do You Do With Overgrown Rhodondren?

Now that you know how harmful severe pruning can be for rhododendron, you might consider a more delicate approach. You can usually slowly train your plant to grow smaller or in a specific direction with light, precise trimming.

Instead of one intense session, you want to prune your rhododendron over a month or two, removing the top sections and then shaping them to the ground.

For example, if your rhododendron becomes too massive, you can trim its surrounding branches back a few inches at a time. Doing this will allow your flowering shrub to heal between sessions.

Remember, your rhododendron is a living organism. Therefore, you need to treat it carefully and keep your shaping/pruning to an appropriate level.

Specifically, we recommend cutting back overgrown rhododendron 12 to 15 inches from the ground when necessary. You can see how this is more than double the six-inch maximum we suggested earlier, so it won't be as traumatic for your plant.

How Often Should I Prune My Rhododendron?

Rhododendron tree being pruned with scissors

One of the interesting things about rhododendrons is that you can prune them at nearly any time throughout the year.

However, according to Swanson Nursery, you can also focus on most of your pruning within a few weeks after it has bloomed.

Furthermore, pruning once your plant has stopped flowering can also ensure a successful blooming season next year, so this is a great way to prepare.

Again, this species doesn't always need intense shaping annually. If you keep up with regular trimming, your rhododendron shouldn't become an untamable monster, so keep the faith!

On top of that, if you don't cut your rhododendron after it blooms: expect the same number of flowers next year. So, pruning a little can help ensure more blooms, while doing nothing won't positively or negatively affect your flower.

When Is The Best Time To Prune A Rhododendron?

Lovely purple rhododendron bush

Now that you know the basics, it's time to decide "when" to prune back your plant. Generally, rhododendron responds the best to trimming during early spring.

That's because the new growth then has an entire season to grow, heal, and mature. Furthermore, trimming a rhododendron while the weather is more moderate can be more beneficial long term.

As we said, you can usually cut back rhododendron anytime throughout the year. However, one exception to that is during freezing weather.

So, you want to hold off on pruning your flower until the last snow of the season, which could mean waiting until March or April.

This is different depending on your region and the year's climate, so everyone is different.

Just remember: it's never a good idea to trim a rhododendron during or before freezing temperatures!

What Happens If I Over Prune My Rhododendron?

If you get too wild with your pruning, it can harm your rhododendron long-term. Generally, you don't want to prune a rhododendron to the point it has no branches or greenery left, so that's something to remember.

In addition, you also want to remember that this species can be cut back to about six inches every few years, but that doesn't mean your plant will like it.

Remember, rhododendrons don't require pruning to grow and flourish, so doing this can have adverse effects. It's usually better to take it easy on your shrub, even if it looks overgrown.

Additionally, you can always prune your rhododendron in sections, so this doesn't always need to be all at once and devastating for your flower.

And, of course, don't prune your rhododendron while it's still freezing outside, heavy or not.

Do I Have To Prune A Rhododendron?

Although there isn't a necessary "requirement" for pruning rhododendrons, the occasional trim can be beneficial. As we mentioned, your shrub can become quite large if you allow it to.

This might be perfect for some gardens, but if you're short on space, it can become a problem. Therefore, the occasional shaping is good for a rhododendron.

Ideally, you will do this after your plant blooms, which can prepare it for next year. Regardless of the flower you grow, it's usually better to have a schedule for its maintenance so there aren't sudden devastating effects.

According to Thompson & Morgan, deadheading a rhododendron can also improve its overall health.

Even if it's light, shaping your flowering shrub every so often can ensure it stays happy, healthy, and full of flowering during the blooming season.

How Fast Do Rhododendrons Grow?

Rhododendrons and picket fence in the Smoky Mountains National Park

On average, you can expect a rhododendron to grow about two feet annually. However, this can vary by variety and overall growing conditions.

It's also worth mentioning that some rhododendrons are relatively slow growing. Even if your plant is from a faster variety, in some cases, it may take its time to fully mature.

In this situation, your pruning will be less frequent, and you will also need to focus more on promoting new growth rather than stopping it.

According to experts, the rhododendron growth rate depends on the unique cultivar you are growing, so everyone will be unique.

Your shrub may reach its full size in 5-10 years, while others may take a bit longer.

To Finish Up

Whether you have a rhododendron growing in your yard or want to plant one, it's always good to know its pruning needs/schedule.

We found that this flowering shrub does better with minimal pruning and shaping, although in some cases, you can cut it back to six inches.

However, you never want to cut a rhododendron back to the ground entirely. Doing this can stun and even kill your plant, so try to be mindful when trimming.

Regardless, avoid pruning during the blooming season and if the weather is super chilly!

Want to read more? Check out these helpful related garden articles below:

Should Hostas Be Cut Back? [In Fall, Winter, Spring, Or Summer]

When To Cut Back Mums After Blooming [And How To Do That]

When To Cut Back A Butterfly Bush [And How To Do That]