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We've got PJM rhododendrons at our new house in Michigan... a couple of them are absolutely flourishing, but two of the smaller bushes right next to them are not having a good time. Some of the branches flowered sparsely this year, but about half the bush is woody and bare. I see buds, but they didn't open, and no new leaves are growing on these branches now. Two questions:

(1) Why? What caused this, and how can I prevent it in the future? Cold winter? Soil conditions? I got some Holly-tone but haven't applied it yet...

(2) How to fix it? I understand that you can prune as long as you do so above a growing center, and the buds have not set for next year. But some of these branches don't have a hint of green anywhere, all the way down to the ground. Should I lop them off and hope the rest of the bush fills out over the next few years?

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    a picture uploaded to imgur.com will help. what is Holly-tone? Did you have a winter with a lot of temperature variations and little snow cover? – kevinsky Jun 12 '13 at 10:26
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When you say 'right next to' the flourishing ones, how close are they? Might be they're too close and have been out competed for water and nutrients by the larger, healthy ones.

If they have no growth at all right down to the base, snap off a couple of branches - if the wood is moist and greenish inside, they're still alive, if it snaps off easily and is dry, the bush is probably dead.

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