I planted rhododendron in spring 2020. Last summer (2021) it became almost double sized with beautiful flowers. I put on burlap to overwinter (for 2 winters)
I’m not sure if the plant has been protected well as I see lots of dead looking leaves. Would it be alright if I just remove them?
In our harsher winter climate, Rhododendrons can become badly damaged due to biting winds rather than frigid temperatures, so it is a good idea to look at the location of your plant with a critical eye and determine where/how you could provide some protection. This can be in the form of driving stakes into the ground and attaching burlap to create a wind break or using bamboo and burlap to create a teepee over your entire plant.
Whether or not such leaves recover without damage depends on the degree of dehydration and the inherent ability of the cultivar to tolerate desiccation. Next winter I would suggest you water well until freeze up so the soil has as much moisture reserves as possible to maintain your plant through any freeze/thaw cycles we encounter.
Give the plant plenty of time to send out new growth as temperatures warm before pruning off the damaged branches and leaves. Mulching with pine bark and/or pine needles will help with weed control and soil moisture retention. This is also the ideal time to feed your plant with a fertilizer for acid loving plants.
I am attaching a link to the American Rhododendron Society webpage on care for your plants, see below. The tabs on the left hand side have a tremendous amount of very useful information should you wish to further your reading.
Hope this helps.