need to transplant azalea (pics included)

penserosa(z6 NJ)July 26, 2006

Hi! We are replacing the steps for our porch and the azalea has to be moved. I don't think this is the best time of year to do it, but it still has to go. I've started digging around it, as I figure I should take it out to see how big the rootball is before digging a new hole for it. After working at it for a while, it isn't budging at all, so my question is: How deep can I expect the roots to go? I'm including pics so you can see how big it is and perhaps make an estimate.

Also, I don't have a great spot for it (in fact, I don't think it's been in a great spot anyway). No high canopy of trees to filter sunlight. I do have morning sun or afternoon sun. Any ideas which might be better?

Thanks so much!

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luis_pr(7b/8a Hurst, TX)

Try 12 inches deep. And regarding the location, it probably depends on the variety. Your zone allows you to grow some azaleas in full sun. But notice that I said some, not all. If you do not know which type it is then play it safe and place it in a morning sun location. Be ready to water it until it becomes well established. That may be as frequent as every other day during the summer. Luis

    Bookmark   July 26, 2006 at 12:17PM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

Azalea roots are very shallow and extend out beyond the drip line. I think you are expecting a tap root and a conventional root system. It isn't. Don't dig any closer to the trunk. You are damaging the small surface roots. They are all there is.

Because the roots grow near the surface, a bed prepared especially for rhododendrons and azaleas need not be more than 12 inches deep; deep planting or too much mulch in the growing season keeps the roots from getting the air they need. In fact, it is a good idea to set rhododendrons about 1 inch higher than they grew at the nursery.

Take precautions to preserve the integrity of the root ball. Tie the ball together and support is so it doesn't fall apart. The very safest approach is to dig a trench up to 12 inches deep, around the dripline of the plant. Then undercut the plant to form a cone, removing the soil an inch or so at a time, moving all around the plant, until you begin to see that you are removing roots. If possible, then get a square of burlap under the plant. Tilt the plant to one side, put one edge of the burlap close to the center of the plant, wadded up so that only half of it is on the open side of the plant, then rock the plant the other way and pull the burlap through. Tie the corners of the burlap to each other across the plant. Tie the burlap tightly to keep the soil around the plant roots undisturbed. Then lift the plant by the burlap and the bottom, not by its stems.

Finally, pruning the top helps match the demands of the top to the capability of the roots after they are stressed by the move. People have been known to cut the top off wild rhododendrons before moving and the plants have come back with superior shape. This is drastic and not recommended for a plant you don't want to risk loosing. Rhododendrons and azaleas have dormant buds beneath the bark which sprout to form new growth after severe pruning, hence severe pruning which removes 1/3 to 1/2 of leaf area is quite common when transplanting. Make sure you watch the plant after it was moved like you would a new plant. Its roots are compromised and it will need a reliable source of moisture. If the weather has a dry spell, make sure you water any newly planted rhododendrons, large or small.

Here is a link that might be useful: Transplanting Hardy Azaleas

    Bookmark   July 28, 2006 at 3:28PM
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penserosa(z6 NJ)

Thanks guys. I think I did a pretty good job digging it out - went all around it pretty can see from the shovel in the first 2 pics that I might have been a bit closer in than the drip line, but not by much. After that I could just kinda rock it out, but boy was it heavy! I have it somewhat above ground level and am hoping it will settle in a bit. Our soil has a lot of clay, so I used mostly compost and peat moss, with a little soil mixed in. I've watered it extensively and will keep a close eye on it. Thanks for your help!


    Bookmark   July 28, 2006 at 7:27PM
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railroadrabbit(7b - Atlanta)


I also have clay.

Above ground level is good for your azalea! Azaleas have shallow roots and do best with well-drained soil. Put mulch that is acidic on top of the ground, also. Pine bark or needles, or something similar. The roots might eventually grow upward into the mulch, which is good for them.

Test the soil in the new location and make sure that it is acidic enough. Soil pH of 5 to 5.5 is good. Otherwise your azaleaÂs roots will not be able to properly get nutrients from the soil.

The peat moss (if sphagnum) will help acidify the soil. But it will break down extremely quickly with the help of worms. You will then have mushy, soggy clay which will eventually cause some of the roots to rot and a plant that is not at its best. Consider mixing something into the soil that will hold itÂs structure and that will not break down so quickly. It will also incorporate air necessary for healthier roots and you will have a healthier plant long-term.

In the past I thought soil amendments were for the purpose of adding nutrients to the soil as they broke down. I now have some sickly looking plants that IÂm nursing back to health. I have finally begun to understand that other amendments are necessary in order to promote healthy root growth. Roots need air for good health.

The azalea nurseries in the Southern states use pine bark nuggets and milled pine bark as a growing media because it is acidic, breaks down slowly, drains well, and allows the roots to get the air necessary for healthy growth. The mini-nuggets hold volume longer than the finely milled product and hold more air for more vigorous root growth. Perlite can also be used to introduce air to the roots. Another option (but more expensive than Perlite) is the baked clay soil amendments and heat expanded shale products such as "Soil Perfector" (read this: ), "Turface MVP" by Profile Products or "Haydite". Small lava rock pebbles are also good amendments that can provide air spaces for roots and will not break down.

My county extension agent told me something interesting regarding recent research on a better way of planting azaleas. Around Atlanta we have red dirt that is often referred to as Georgia red clay. Rather than adding amendments to the red dirt they now say to just take the azalea out of the container, place it on the ground, and mound pine bark mini-nuggets or pine bark shredded mulch slightly above the height of the container and at least a foot beyond the leaves. Once the roots invade the pine bark you will have a healthy vigorous plant with excellent roots. It requires frequent watering during the first year but I usually have to do that regardless. She said this will also work for blueberries and other acid loving plants.


Here is a link that might be useful: An explanation of good soil components

    Bookmark   August 3, 2006 at 1:55AM
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rhodyman(SE PA, USDA Z6)

Hi John,

I always avoid the mushy soil by using composted sphagnum peat. It is like a rich black dirt and has good drainage. Pine bark dust has the same problem as sphagnum peat. The Rhododendron Species Foundation used saw dust and bark dust and had the same problem you had, mushy soil with no oxygen. I am wondering how your county agent thinks that bark mini-nuggets will solve this problem. It will just delay the problem. You still need some sand and other minerals to provide drainage when the bark mini-nuggets decompose into mush. They eventually will. I recommend using a composted material. You then know exactly what you have and aren't creating a problem down the road a few years.

Here is a link that might be useful: How to grow azaleas.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2006 at 8:34AM
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