Dick Houghton, Gold Spring Harbor, N. Y.
Reprinted from The New York Chapter Newsletter
Friends frequently ask me if they should remove the spent rhododendron blossom skeleton after flowers have wilted. They probably heard somewhere that they should. But they hope that I can give them an excuse for avoiding all that time-consuming effort.
Well, I respond, some truss skeletons are really beautiful. Honest, 'Trilby', for instance: bright green seed pods with a red pistil on the end of each, and all connected by a geometric network of red stems. In addition, if neither the bees nor the merry little breezes have pollinated them, seeds will not develop and you have no need to worry about such activity draining the strength away from the plant's growth and preparation for next year's display. And certain varieties are almost impossible to fertilize anyway.
Of course, your plants' seed pods probably are swelling, but maybe you didn't have enough blossoms this year to penalize the plant much (maybe you want to plant the seeds). Do you suppose not dead-heading last year explains that poor showing this spring? And then, you may not mind the appearance with the old dry brown floret remains clinging to the leaves. But I've found that brown blotches and sometimes rotten areas develop on the green leaves under the discarded petals, especially if we have a rainy spell. In addition, some of the new growth gets terribly tangled up and permanently deformed when it gets trapped trying to grow up through the truss remains. Perhaps you have "petal blight" too, in which event it may not hurt to collect the spent blooms and dispose of them. Now that I think about it, I'm going to try and get around to deadheading my rhodos this year. I'll leave a few on 'Trilby.'