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.

3 Responses

  1. I can’t remember where I read it, but a prominent bonsai artist said make the smallest tree you can. I like the red outline of where you want to take the foliage, but I think that the trunk needs a little more taper than it has to be shortened that much. Maybe think about air layering the top off right below the top of the outline, then try to develop a new leader to cut back to later on.

    July 19, 2013 at 10:43 pm

    • Hi Charles, you’re right the trunk lacks taper. Actually, there is no taper in the top half really. Certainly the plan would be to take the layer below the red line, then grow out a new leader.

      Cheers.

      July 19, 2013 at 11:15 pm

  2. Pingback: Azalea Cut Back Again | Lakeshore Bonsai: Bonsai in Toronto, Canada

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