Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Coppicing - Renewal Pruning for Old Rhododendrons

Photo: when rosebay rhododendron (R. maximum) gets too tall and leggy, coppice (prune back) in late September and October

Coppicing is a no-brainer form of renewal pruning. The entire shrub is lopped off to the ground to re-start from its roots next spring. For many gardeners, it's a gutsy move, but a fairly simple task. Coppicing also eliminates disease and/or insect- riddled stems and twigs without resorting to pesticides.

Timing is critical. Overgrown rhododendrons, including deciduous azaleas, hollies, pieris and mountain laurels may be coppiced from late September thru October. Coppicing invigorates old shrubs, brightens foliage color and increases fruit size.
Very important: over-grown shrubs should be well-established and healthy; old rhodies in poor health will likely not re-grow. Rhodies may be cut back severely to stumps with no leaves. Healthy plants recover quickly vegetatively, but do not flower for two, sometimes three years.
A coppiced plant sometimes re-grow so vigorously that some additional pruning will be necessary. Many new shoots (stems) will emerge; select the most straightest and most vigorous.

Hand clippers, loppers, and saws should be sharp. Do not use weed-eaters.

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