Rhododendron Branches And Leaves Are Turning Brown And Appear To Be Dying

Question From: Easton, Pennsylvania, United States
Q: Thirty years ago we planted 3 rhododendrons. They have flourished (approx. 15 feet high) and have bloomed beautifully with gigantic lilac colored flowers. Suddenly this past fall (2016) 1 of the plants developed brown leaves and branches. It appears to be dead. Now some brown leaves are appearing on the other 2 plants. We have never fertilized them and have rarely watered the. They are in a shady location with late afternoon sun. We do protect them with fencing during the winter because of a big deer population. What could have happened after 30 years of beautiful success? We are heartbroken. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you

A: Lack of water in a very dry year comes to mind. Rhodies are shallow rooted so need watering in times of drought. Best And Happy Yardening, Nancy