How do We Deal with a Dead Topped Azalea?

It seems so very common, azaleas that lose their tops. A stressed out azalea will often give up what it cares about least, which is its crown. But then it can be troublesome to recreate what was there.

This tree came into the yard recently with just this problem. If anything, it was a severe case, as the dead top had created two shari lines down the tree, front and back, like a juniper or pine might have. So during a Seasonal Workshop we unpuzzled this mess with the following solution…

Enjoy our photo essay of this Satsuki remake-

A Satsuki azalea that lost its top.

The front of the tree is all dead now, one long shari line from roots to top.

Removing one side of its branches…

Here is the dead area, the chalk line roughly tracing the living tissue which is to the right of the line.

…and our solution comes out of the box…

Removing half the tree, so that we might root the sides of it and make a raft style.

The tree in the training container, laid down on its side to create a raft—with the branches rising up to become trunks.

Placing muck on the rootball. Eventually this root mass will be entirely removed, after roots coming from the sides of the prostrate trunk have taken over.

Placing sphagnum on the area we want to root. We did use some rooting hormone, although azaleas root quite easily.

This is the only ‘as it looks today’ shot I have, so I’ll try to circle around to this azalea in the future-

8 Comments

  1. tangobunny says:

    Michael–that is amazing–enjoyed this so much. Want to come take a class when I retire for the second time! -Bunny

  2. Ray says:

    I have just that stiuation. Thanks for a timely tip Michael.

  3. Yani says:

    Wonderful showcase and spirit of not giving up on a tree with potential! Thank you.. I have a question as I have a Chinese Elm about 30 years old- a couple of years ago our watering system failed while on a trip and I had major sections of the crown and side branches loose their leaves. At some point I got some spikes of the ends but they didn’t last. Now the tree after much TLC is making its way back. I was wondering if you had suggestions as how to propagate growth through some of the deadwood on the tree or should I just trim it off and thread graft from another tree? It’s my prize with a 4″ trunch and 24″ canopy about 30″ tall. The second branch that is the issue is about 1.25″ in diameter and there is live wood about 1.5″ away from the trunk. I have been fertilizing very well and have solid dense growth all over. Other thought was to halfcut leaves all over at and redirect energy to the wounded branch…Any recommendations?

    • crataegus says:

      It’s good news that it’s making its way back. I’d keep nudging it forward, repot it if it’s been a while to keep up the momentum, and now that it’s really strong again prune back on the strong areas and leave the weak one alone. That will strengthen it. Leaf pruning will help too. I think you have the right idea.

  4. endsurg says:

    Great instruction. Never saw an azalea raft before. How deep should the cut go? How come roots in muck don’t rot? Did you cover the root ball that was out of the soil? How do you know when the roots have developed enough to cut off the root ball?

    • crataegus says:

      We just stimulated the cambium on the trunk, we didn’t cut anything. If I understand your question. Later the whole trunk at the base will come off. For now, the sides of the root mass are covered in muck, the water comes in through the top of what used to be the side of the root system. Hope that makes sense. The muck won’t rot the roots. Roots generally grow into it. We’ll definitely investigate by pulling away the moss to see that we have enough roots growing out before cutting the lower trunk off. And one can go slowly with that too, nibbling at it like a beaver.

  5. Lance says:

    Wish there were more progression pics, but sweet post Michael! I have an old Satsuki with the same issue, albeit not as severe. Throwing it on its side never occurred to me, but I’m more of a horticulturist than an artist….Weird great stuff!

  6. ilovebonsai.pl says:

    Hi Michael, one question: after flowering we prune the azaleas. Can we also repot them then? Or after pruning we should wait until next year to repot them? What’s your experience in this?

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