Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Azaleas, the T-1000 of bonsai plants

Azaleas are great looking shrubs. Most azaleas have smaller elliptical leaves. They are easy to grow, and they have beautiful flowers. When refined the whole tree will be covered in flowers. One of the great things about azaleas is that they can be kept indoors. Azaleas grow naturally in Asia and North America. The blooms come in almost all colors, and they can look amazingly Delicate. Azaleas themselves are very hardy plants. They like partial sun, acidic soil, and moist conditions. Some azaleas can tolerate cold, but most come from subtropical and tropical places.

I love working with azaleas. They can take a beating and even seem to thrive on abuse. Azaleas can grow new branches from anyplace that has bark. That means you can get new branches on the trunks, and other branches. Many trees can not do that, and that presents a challenge if an important branch dies. Azaleas however, do not respond well to severe root pruning.

When I bought this azalea It was a huge topiary. It measured two feet from the lip of the pot. The trunk was nice and thick. First I thinned it out. I left the branches long, but I left two secondary branches where there were multiple growing from the same place. In August when I saw new growth I hard pruned it. I cut all the branches to five inches from the trunk. The azalea started to grow new branches. By the time of this writing (mid March) I have pruned the azalea two more times to shape and start ramification.    

I placed my hand for perspective

Close up of the trunk

Great bonsais can be made from big box stock. Make sure it has one trunk. This one I left alone for a year. I cut three branches growing from the trunk and gave it some form. You can see the wounds in the picture. They will heal fairly quickly.

Big box store azalea

One thing to keep in mind is that the branches are brittle. You can do some manipulation, but you must be careful. This azaleas is my daughter’s. I was helping bend a branch down. Can you guess which side of the tree I snapped the branch off of? The worst part is that it was the second time I broke a big branch on her azalea.  

Watch out for brittle branches

In Japan the prized azaleas are called satsuki. Satsuki is the word for the month of May. These azaleas bloom in that month. However, there are so many hybrids and varieties that you could fill your collection of bonsai with azalea and you would not repeat yourself. Cheers.

Update October 4

I can not tell you how many times I have pruned this azalea since I posted about it. I'll start by showing you the trunk.

I bought this tree because i really liked the trunk. It was a topiary bush I found at a big box store. I got it after the flowers had fallen off at the end of the season. This is what the plant looks like now.

The primary branches have grown. Next season I will cut it back about one third the size and let the secondary branches grow. 

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