Developing as bonsai; Satsuki Azalea "Kazan"

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Developing as bonsai; Satsuki Azalea "Kazan"

Post  CityofTrees on Wed Sep 10, 2014 1:08 am

Hello IBC,

Here is another one of my little plants in development. I picked up this Satsuki Azalea "Kazan" at Maruyama Bonsai Nursery here in Sacramento, CA about 3 months ago for $30. This was to replace a 1-gal plant of the same variety bought at a different nursery after I went away during a hot weekend and my friend neglected to water it  Mad  It looked like the plant had been recently purchased at a general nursery and they just resold it for profit. I'm not sure if any work was done on it in the brief time it spent with Mr. Maruyama, if anything it was probably just hedged back slightly. It was marked as "Ron Kuzon" on the pot but I was told here kindly that it is more commonly known as Kazan. For some perspective, this is in a 2-3 gal can. The width and height (from top of soil as the tree is planted at least 2 inches below rim of pot) is roughly 10 inches. Nothing has been done to it while in my care, just feeding with general fert and frequent watering. It's still in the old nursery soil but I plan on repotting it into a more free-draining mix as soon as I can.

So, finally, my question is: What are the first steps you take towards developing an azalea like this into bonsai? Seems like it's in a pretty natural shrubby state at the moment typical for the age and I'd like to prune it to encourage the growth of a thick trunk and start setting up the bones of the tree. Anyone have any helpful tips for this? Initial steps to take? Any reference to sites or articles with free information would be greatly appreciated. I've read some species profiles for satsuki azaleas but all are very generalized and the pruning info is seriously lacking. I also have my eye on a book from stonelantern.com on satsuki azaleas that should help out immensely but I'm hoping for some more immediate and free knowledge if possible. I know azaleas are basally dominant so a hard pruning of side branches is necessary to increase upwards growth and encourage a single trunk.

So do I just select one or two of the thickest upright branches as possible trunks and eliminate the rest of the upwards growth? And reduce side growth leaving options for branch development? It's probably not necessary but here a couple pics anyway. I'll get a better look at the trunk and branch structure when I can get it out of this pot that it's sunken down in. Thanks for any help.

Garrett






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Re: Developing as bonsai; Satsuki Azalea "Kazan"

Post  JimLewis on Wed Sep 10, 2014 3:15 pm

Not a lot you could or should do with this until spring. I you want to repot in early spring, (which I would recommend) you would cut the foliage back (taking the flower buds with it), but you could let it bloom, remove the entire flower as it fades and repot later, too. This can be a bit stressful. Better to repot in early spring when leaf buds are about to pop.

Azalea have an odd root system, a few nice large roots, then a mass of very fine feeder (hair) roots. On your first potting -- assuming the tree is very healthy -- you want to expose as much of the trunk as you can. That probably means removing a lot of surface root. Try to leave a few large roots to radiate from the perceived base of the trunk. If the tree is in a typical nursery pot, it is too deep for even a bonsai training pot. I take a saw and cut the bottom third of the root mass away, then use a hard blast of water from a hose to wash out the remainder of the root ball, getting rid of the bulk of the fine root mass and soil. (Some folks say this is too rough, but it has worked for me for a number of years, but you can work out old stuff with a root hook or chopstick, if you prefer).

The first pot wants to be about half the volume of the 2 gallon pot. Some of the medium-small black plastic bonsai pots are great.



Azalea soil is sometimes controversial. Many swear by Kanuma/Akadama. Both are imported from Japan and are commensurately expensive. I can't imagine importing dirt, so I use (approximately) 60% Turface, 35% pine bark and 5% peat, well mixed. After pouring a layer on the bottom, carefully work this mixture into the root mass. Use a strong, sharp bamboo chopstick. This process, done right, can take 45 minutes or more, depending on the size and density of the root mass, but you want the soil to get thoroughly inside the root body.

A few good books: Satsuki Azaleas by Robert Z. Callahan (Stone Lantern). Overall the best. Very good description of how you will want to do subsequent repotting of your tree. Satsuki by Alexander Kennedy, Splatt Press (self published, I think). Pages 88-90 is where I learned the potting sequence for the first (and later, if you want) potting. This book may be hard to find. He also wrote Floral Treasures of Japan which has more detail about the cultivars, but isn't so detailed relating to bonsai. Peter Adams' The Art of Flowering Bonsai is also very useful.

I can't see much in those photos of the trunk, but it looks a bit difficult. You will know more when you pot it up.

Good luck and have fun.

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Jim Lewis - lewisjk@windstream.net - Western NC - People, when Columbus discovered this country, it was plumb full of nuts and berries. And I'm right here to tell you the berries are just about all gone. Uncle Dave Macon, old-time country musician

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Re: Developing as bonsai; Satsuki Azalea "Kazan"

Post  CityofTrees on Thu Sep 11, 2014 11:10 pm

Jim, thanks very much for the helpful and informative response. The book you mentioned, Satsuki Azaleas by Robert Callahan, is the one I was talking about in my initial post that I have my eye on over at stone lantern. I have my eye on it based on your review of it posted in your mini book reviews thread, so thanks for that too.

I appreciate the info on repotting, I'd really like to see it flower but I'm patient (kind of) and want to do what's best for the tree so I'll probably repot in early spring and cut back, taking the flower buds with it. So you wouldn't suggest the removal of branches or anything like that, just cut them all back for now? Do I cut back to the point that they emanate from on the branch or further back behind the node the branchlets grow from?

I'm not sure what to do about potting up or down, I'm really in no rush so I planned on potting this up to the next size to get faster growth. Is this not advisable? Would you suggest that I start reducing the rootball now in preparation for a bonsai pot? The plant is a few inches down in the pot so I'm guessing the rootball is only 6 inches deep, not too bad. I'm very new so if you think it would be better to pot up rather than down I'll gladly and strongly consider it. I'll probably still reduce the rootball some to get rid of that more compact nursery soil it's in, and I'm sure I'll do that same as you and just blast the rootball with water to get the old soil out and break it up.

As far as soil composition, I do have some kanuma and akadama from the same bonsai nursery where I bought this plant here in Sac. It was probably too expensive but it was when I was brand spankin' new to bonsai and just bought a small bag that didn't cost much. I'll probably use this kanuma and akadama with pumice, roughly equal parts of each and maybe some peat. I have perlite and lava rock to throw in as well but not sure if the mix would benefit from these. I look forward to this hour long repotting session Smile

Unrelated to my previous questions about the plant, what kind of light exposure do you give your azaleas? The weather here is very hot during the summer with intense sunlight and relatively dry, I've heard these don't like intense sun and prefer shade so that's what I've done mostly. What do you do with yours? Thanks again for the help I really appreciate it. Love this stuff!

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Re: Developing as bonsai; Satsuki Azalea "Kazan"

Post  CityofTrees on Thu Sep 11, 2014 11:13 pm

Oh and the trunk, I'm almost positive those are two trunks growing right next to each other. Is that bad or could they fuse together at some point and look nice? If this is the case, is there anything I can do to encourage them growing together? Like you said I'll know more at the repot when I clear of the leaf litter/top soil and get a good look at the lower trunk.

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Re: Developing as bonsai; Satsuki Azalea "Kazan"

Post  JimLewis on Fri Sep 12, 2014 2:39 pm

Pruning: Mostly just the twig that holds the bud, for now, but if there is a branch that you are certain you will not use, you can cut that back to the larger branch it comes from. Leave a 1/8 inch stub. When that dries, you can rub it off.

Potting: Azaleas do better with more root room than most other plants. You probably would be OK cleaning up the root ball to whatever extent you feel comfortable with and repotting in this pot.

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Jim Lewis - lewisjk@windstream.net - Western NC - People, when Columbus discovered this country, it was plumb full of nuts and berries. And I'm right here to tell you the berries are just about all gone. Uncle Dave Macon, old-time country musician

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Re: Developing as bonsai; Satsuki Azalea "Kazan"

Post  CityofTrees on Thu Oct 09, 2014 10:06 pm

JimLewis wrote:Pruning:  Mostly just the twig that holds the bud, for now, but if there is a branch that you are certain you will not use, you can cut that back to the larger branch it comes from.  Leave a 1/8 inch stub.  When that dries, you can rub it off.

Potting:  Azaleas do better with more root room than most other plants.  You probably would be OK cleaning up the root ball to whatever extent you feel comfortable with and repotting in this pot.

Thanks again for the help, Jim. I couldn't stand how deep the azalea was planted in the pot and all the leaf litter that I couldn't really clean up, and got a little impatient. I didn't do anything too drastic, just pulled the plant out of the pot, cleaned some soil off the top bottom and sides of the root ball, and repotted with some kanuma and pumice to fill the rest of the pot. No ill effects yet and the plant actually seems to like it. This was a week or two ago. Now I'll wait until spring to cut the plant back some and repot again, this time reducing the depth of the rootball and probably putting it in a training pot.

I also finally bought the Callahan azalea book and I'm well in to it already, awesome book. Still not sure what to do about what I'm pretty positive is two separate trunks in this one pot. Should I attempt to separate or promote fusing? They're so close it's hard to tell if they're separate or not.

Garrett

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Re: Developing as bonsai; Satsuki Azalea "Kazan"

Post  JimLewis on Fri Oct 10, 2014 2:46 pm

Still not sure what to do about what I'm pretty positive is two separate trunks in this one pot. Should I attempt to separate or promote fusing? They're so close it's hard to tell if they're separate or not.

You won't know until you do some rather drastic pruning.  I suspect Fusing will take a fairly long time (measured in years).  And even that may not work unless you can scrape away all bark from between the trunks, then tape or wire the trunks so close they are touching and leave them be after that.

Depending on where each trunk goes, however, you may be able to develop a twin trunk.

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Jim Lewis - lewisjk@windstream.net - Western NC - People, when Columbus discovered this country, it was plumb full of nuts and berries. And I'm right here to tell you the berries are just about all gone. Uncle Dave Macon, old-time country musician

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Re: Developing as bonsai; Satsuki Azalea "Kazan"

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