The house I bought in west-central FL last year has a huge old oak tree in the front yard, and the tree is circled by azalea, about 4' high, 3 1/2' wide. No idea the type. The plants are at least 10 years old, maybe older, and never seem to have gotten a down-to-the-ground pruning anywhere. My neighbor tells me the previous owner just went at it with a hedge clipper once a year. I got decent blooms this year, not spectacular, but ok. Problems - the shrubs are being choked by mystery vines; there are amaryllis leaves and other mystery growths peeking through the bushes, and the bloom canopy is very thin - if I cut off 6" of growth, I'm about down to woody stems. How draconian can I be with pruning this month to try to clear out the vines and other stuff and salvage and rehabilitate the plants. If I have to sacrifice next year's bloom, that's OK. Any wisdom will be greatly appreciated - nothing I've found so far specifically addresses old and neglected plants. Thanks.
Care for an Old Azalea Planting
Azaleas can handle pruning well since they have adventitious buds. But I usually recommend pruning no more than a third per season. This type of pruning is usually best done when the plant is dormant but you can do it after flowering/leaf out as well. Just remember that the plant may act as if it is undergoing transplant shock for a while again. Keep an eye on soil moisture, mulch well and do not step on the roots. Azalea roots are tiny fibruous roots that grow mostly on the top 4" of the soil so it doesn't take much effort to damage them by walking on top of them. You can assume that they extend a little past the drip canopy. Pulling out vines and stuff that are growing under the azaleas could also disturb the azalea roots so depending on how bad this entanglement is, you could pull these out, see if the azaleas hiccup in some way and proceed with some pruning after a few days.
Thanks for the advice. I can see this is going to be a week-long project.
I want to hard prune my aging azalea .. it's evergreen .. I just cleaned out all the plants in the bed it is in and am planning to lay sod down. After reading about what you said about the fibruous roots, I'm wondering if it will be ok to lay sod over them or will it suffocate the plant?
No, X, that will not be a good idea because both will be competing for food and moisture in the "same area". Just maintain about 3-4" of mulch under the plant as best as you can thru the drip line or a little beyond. Try not to step on or put weight on those tiny roots as best as you can.