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I live in Massachusetts, zone 6a, and have ten large rhododendrons which bloomed profusely last spring. In September, numerous buds appeared on each bush, but the winter came before they had a chance to open. I left them, thinking they might open in the spring, but they feel frozen and brittle and now I'm wondering if the plants would be healthier without them. Should I cut them off or let them be?

Update as of 10/20/15: This is an update for anyone who has the same question. We had one of the harshest, longest, winters on record, and still my rhododendrons and azaleas bloomed beautifully! As we're going again into fall, then winter, I'm confident that leaving the buds alone is the best thing for me to do. Here are some pictures of various shrubs in bloom last spring. Click on them for full size.

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No, leave them in place - flower buds form in summer for the following year, as you rightly suspected, and the ones you noticed may actually produce flowers, despite their appearance, but even if they don't, the plant will come to no harm from leaving them in situ. If they have shrivelled more by spring/early summer and don't flower when they should, and aren't new leaves, you can cut them off then, particularly if you suspect infection.

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