When we saw our first house in Tampa, we fell in love with the enormous Oak trees that covered the property. It was only after we had lived there for a year that we realized the majestic Oaks brought a few "issues" with them. First, they needed to be trimmed regularly to allow sun to reach the lawn and to keep the trees from crowding each other out. Second, even with regular trimming, the property was 80% in the shade, which prevented us from growing many of the sun loving tropical plants that prosper in Florida. Third, the Oaks sent out a thick and aggressive tangle of roots right at the surface that overwhelmed any plantings within the drip line.
It took me several years to find a shrub that could survive under the Oak canopy. The answer - Azaleas. They could survive with a significant amount of shade and compete on an equal basis with the roots. In additon, the Oak trees provided an unending source of mulch through the annual leaf drop in early Spring, which also helped maintain the acid level in the soil.
While I had more failures than successes with many of my Florida plants, I was very happy with what I was able to achieve with azaleas. Below are some of the pictures I took in the spring of 2005 (click on any thumbnail for a larger picture).
The images below were taken at Disney World:
Some resources on azaleas:
- Start here - University of Florida
- Azalea Society of America
- Floridata - Overview
- Floridata Azalea Gallery