Rhododendron indicum

Satsuki Work and New Photography Backdrop

I acquired this “Kinsai” satsuki azalea in March 2014 from the Kennett Collection Reduction Sale. This event was the most significant bonsai sale in North American history and probably one of the most significant outside of Asia. According to a Facebook post by Doug Paul, owner of the Kennett Collection, “all the Satsuki’s were purchased from Kobayashi San in Kanuma City”. At first I thought this was referring to contemporary bonsai master Kunio Kobayashi, but I’ve since learned it is referring to Kobayashi Sangyo Co. Ltd. which is a wholesaler, producer, and exporter of satsuki azaleas.

While this tree has an awesome trunk and nebari, it still needs years of work before it reaches its peak. It has a number of significant wounds that, while not overly large, had not been treated with much care – probably because it was grown for wholesale purposes. Also, it seems that detailed branch thinning hasn’t been done for years. As a result, the ramification was overly dense in need of major work. Last year it was only repotted, watered, fertilized, and flower buds were removed in order to build up strength. The wounds were also carved back and sealed so they can continue to heal over. This year it was lightly repotted again and after seeing that it was extremely vigorous, I set about drastically thinning the tree and doing some structural wiring. I am relatively new to satsuki bonsai, but I know by now that they are incredibly dense growers and it seems that drastic thinning work like this will be necessary every 10 or so years, as is the case with most trees.

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Before any work. Even though I plucked the flower buds last summer I still missed a couple dozen.

None of the satsuki at the sale had labels therefore I was delighted to learn it was a kinsai when it first flowered some 3 months after purchase.

None of the satsuki at the sale had labels therefore I was delighted to learn it was a kinsai when it first flowered some 3 months after purchase. The spidery scarlet flowers are certainly unique. Kinsai is also known for small leaves and a slightly reddish bark colour and winter foliage.

A main branch after thinning and wiring. New growth should explode all along these branches in a few weeks.

A main branch after thinning and wiring. New growth should explode all along these branches in a few weeks. Then it can be maintained for a few years with diligent thinning and much less wiring. At least that is the plan.

About halfway done.

About halfway done. The idea is to make tiers of foliage which will produce tiers of flowers.

All done and photographed in front of my new backdrop. This certainly highlights the faults of the tree. Clearly the first branch on the right needs to be shortened but that will happen after the new buds appear.

All done and photographed in front of my new backdrop. This certainly makes it hard to hide any faults of the tree. Clearly the first branch on the left needs to be shortened but that will happen after the new buds appear. I am also considering removing or layering that lowest back branch poking out on the right.

The backdrop is just a roll up projector screen which I can hang on my fence. This makes it much easier for me to photograph my larger trees (of which I have more every year, it seems).

The backdrop is just a roll up projector screen which I can hang on my fence. This makes it much easier for me to photograph my larger trees (of which I have more every year, it seems). Having it mounted outside also allows me to take advantage of natural light which I find makes taking decent pictures much easier, especially since I have a pretty crappy camera.

March 2014, as purchased and in front of my old backdrop aka the wall in my kitchen.

March 2014, as purchased and in front of my old backdrop aka the wall in my kitchen.

 


Futame-futaba-nokoshi

As I have recently come to own two satsuki azaleas, I realized I’d better figure out how they work. One step I took was buying and reading Satsuki Azaleas for Bonsai and Azalea Enthusiasts by Robert Z. Callaham. It is an interesting book with some good satsuki techniques, but the bulk of it is designed as a reference for identifying cultivars.

One interesting technique is known as futame-futaba-nokoshi, and it means pruning the tree such that each branch ends in two shoots, each with two leaves. All other growth is removed. This allows an opportunity to wire the young shoots and promotes budding in the interior of the tree. Essentially it is partial defoliation combined with branch thinning. This ‘Kaho’ azalea which I purchased last summer has been undergoing a major restoration project, and it seemed a good time to apply this technique. All of the secondary branching was cut off last year, so futame-futaba-nokoshi provides a good opportunity to carefully create the future secondary branches.

The cutting/wiring was done almost exactly one month ago, and the follow up pictures are from today. This tree will probably have another round of cutting this year, as well as flower bud removal. Some long and awkward branches still need to be removed/shortened.

One view (front?) after cutting.

One view (front?) after cutting and trunk scrubbing.

Another view after cutting.

Another view after cutting.

Branch detail.

Branch detail.

One month later.

One month later.

Tree as purchased July 2013

Tree as purchased July 2013

 

 

 

 

 


Azalea Cut Back Again

One month ago I bought this azalea and thinned it out heavily. The backbudding response was very good, so the other day I took out the concave pruners and cut back hard to the new buds. Some branches still need to go further back, but overall I have been happy with its progress such a short time. What an amazing species!

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Satsuki Azalea Checks into Rehab

I always preach about growing species that are suited to your climate because it makes bonsai so much simpler and less stressful. For this reason I have never had a satsuki because they require quite a bit of winter protection around here i.e. garage or coldframe. Nevertheless, the opportunity recently came up to buy a Satsuki Azalea ‘Kaho’ for a great price, and I really couldn’t turn it down.

This tree has been neglected for quite a few years. It is completely overgrown, with no interior growth and lots of interior dieback (although fortunately none of the branches are dead). However, it has a great nebari and good branch placement. These characteristics make it worth spending a few years rehabilitating this tree. Azaleas are perfect for this type of project because they backbud profusely and grow quickly (or so I hear).

This year there is one goal for this tree: get backbuds.

As soon as I got the tree I spent some time removing the old flowers just to examine it in detail. Then, I thinned it out heavily, leaving just one bud at each branch tip. The apex was thinned less heavily because I have been told that azaleas are generally weaker in the apex – a very unusual characteristic but perhaps not surprising since this is a shrub in nature. All dead interior growth was removed.

Ideally the branches would have been cut back to stumps (secondary branching), but this is probably not the best time of year and I am skeptical about the vigour of this particular tree so I felt it not worth the risk. Next year it will be barerooted, planted in kanuma, and cut back much harder.

The tree is now getting blasted with full sun and fertilizer. This work was done under two weeks ago, and I’ve just noticed that new buds have started popping in the interior of the tree much closer to the trunk.

    As purchased. The shapely Yamaaki pot was a bonus.

As purchased. The shapely Yamaaki pot was a bonus.

Nebari

Nebari

After flower removal.

After flower removal.

    After thinning but before removing all the dead twigs. This picture shows how much interior dieback there was. Literally, there was only green on the very tips of the branches.

After thinning but before removing all the dead twigs. This picture shows how much interior dieback there was. Literally, there was only green on the very tips of the branches.

    Completed work for the season. This work was done just under 2 weeks ago, and new buds are now popping in the interior of the branches.

Completed work for the season. This work was done just under 2 weeks ago, and new buds are now popping in the interior of the branches.