TikTok Professional Gardener Proves You're Not Tough Enough When Pruning Your Rhodedendrons

Rhododendrons are a shrub that can get leggy if left unkempt, quickly taking over a whole corner of your garden and growing more sparse with age. Pruning any plant can be scary, but professional gardener, garden coach, and TikTok creator Jessica Zander shows that you're probably being too gentle with rejuvenation pruning. In a TikTok video, Zander had met with a client about a huge, overgrown rhododendron in her garden. "This is an absolutely beautiful old plant," said Zander, pointing out that the client had noticed some new growth stemming from beneath the rhododendron's main branches. Zander believed this was a sign that the unruly plant could be salvageable. "I think you need a massive, massive haircut," said Zander, "You're going to be horrified."

Zander recommended that the client cut just above the new growth — almost down to the base of the rhododendron. Her methods might seem scary and brutal at first, but Zander says, "Call me in three weeks and tell me you don't have new growth starting." The owner took Zander's advice, making some very dramatic cuts to the rhododendron while commenters patiently waited for an update — and the results proved that Zander was right all along. 

Rhododendrons are resilient to heavy pruning

In an update video posted a few weeks later on TikTok, the client showed her before and after results from following Jessica Zander's advice. After using pink tape to mark the branches and cutting to Zander's recommendations, the only things left were a few stubby stems and a few shoots of new growth. The pruning results might look detrimental to any unseasoned gardener, but rhododendron is remarkably resilient. Zander was right when she promised that new growth would return. 

While it took some time, the client happily revealed that after four weeks, new buds had already started forming on the pruned branches. "I was pretty confident this would bounce back quickly but it actually was a little more sparse than I was expecting. Still, the new growth came in 4 weeks later," Zander wrote in the caption of her video, "It will definitely take a while for this plant to grow back and become lush and full. But it will! Consider doing this as opposed to removing one entirely. If you can stand to wait, that is."

Jessica Zander's tips for successful pruning

Of course, TikTok videos can make any task seem easy, but it's important to understand some of Jessica Zander's other tips before you go wild with the pruning shears. Firstly, you might wonder if the time of year can affect how well your plant bounces back. In the caption beneath her original TikTok video, Zander wrote, "There are optimal times to prune certain plants (most are late winter/early spring) but don't overthink this. Just do this when you have the time." However, she also warns against heavy pruning if you're facing extreme temperatures. Pruning in combination with a sudden freeze or severe drought could shock the plant and slow its recovery. 

Despite the possibility of shock, Zander explains, "It's actually pretty hard to kill plants from pruning anyway so don't be afraid." After pruning, the plant will look a bit stumpy and awkward until next spring, but Zander loves the pruning method as an alternative to total replacement. Meeting your rhododendron's other care needs will ensure a lush and speedy recovery. "To give the plant the best chance of producing new growth I advised giving it a lot of water right away, which these clients did," wrote Zander. She also suggested using fertilizer, especially in such cases where the plant is severely cut back.