My Rhody made it through the winter, but barely. This is its second year in the ground. It did bloom on its two living branches, but about 80% of the shrub is dead and leafless. Should I cut off the dead branches or just leave them alone?
Lots of Winter Damage
Well, it's a year later and my rhododendron is still alive and actually bloomed, but it's quite pitiful looking. Please excuse the weeds! I'm a full-time student working full time and my gardening time has been very limited this season.
This is a Rhododendron 'Nova Zembla.' Is there any way to salvage this? Will the middle ever fill back in?
It sure is putting on a good show for you! It is possible that a bud will form down towards one of the trimmed off stems. If I were you, I would trim the stem hanging out into the yard by half. If the plant forms a new stem below the cut, you're golden. If it doesn't then you haven't really lost anything and you know that it won't fill back in.
Some rhododendrons need full sun to bloom and leaf out well others can take fairly dense shade. In general, the more sun, the more flower buds but also the greater exposure to damage from desiccation in summer or winter. More or a lot of shade produces tall spindly foliage and less flowers. Pinching of leaf buds (not flower buds) can be used to make the plants leaf out more on the mid to lower parts.