Advice on Azalea

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Advice on Azalea

Post  mimstrel on Tue Mar 20, 2012 1:25 am

I've gone to a couple of meetings of the (somewhat) local bonsai club; last week one of the nice guys in the club gave me an azalea:






He explained that the long outer branches are sacrifice branches to thicken up the trunk, and the center is the leader.
I kind of think that the trunk may be getting close to as thick as I want it (the third picture shows the center leader best, I was trying to get other angles in the other images but the sacrifice branches keep getting in the way), but I'm kind of scared to screw up this plant, since someone else has already done some work on it and then was nice enough to give it to me. So I thought I'd gather some opinions before I touch it.

I also picked up a bristlecone pine seedling, as another member brought in a few to give away.

Thanks!

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Re: Advice on Azalea

Post  sunip on Tue Mar 20, 2012 7:48 am

Hello Mimstrel,
Nice material to work with.
Did he mentioned something about the variety of this azalea?
Are you sure this trunk is nice enough already for you,
maybe it is good to get some more trees to work on and give this one some more time?
If this tree is not repotted this year i would repot it now and work on the roots.
See if you can give it a nice radial root spread and wire the trunk leader if necessary while it is still possible.
I would place it in a pond basket in the ground for further growth,
with those baskets you can easily take them out and work on the tree or getting them in for winter conditions.
( I do not know in what climate zone you are)
Regards, Sunip Wink


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Re: Advice on Azalea

Post  JimLewis on Tue Mar 20, 2012 12:00 pm

You may want to reconsider the thought that the trunk is large enough for you. Azalea flowers are -- most of them at least -- quite large for a mini bonsai. The trees need some heft to them to be in proportion with the 2-3 inch flowers.

Planting this in a larger pot or a pond basket in the ground for 2-3 years, along with careful pruning of those long, spindly bare branches to promote some growth back on the stems will help it fatten quickly. Those long stems without leaves or further branches do little or nothing as sacrifices, because they won't fatten without side branches.

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Re: Advice on Azalea

Post  Glaucus on Tue Mar 20, 2012 2:52 pm

First of all, you likely won't be able to wire the trunk. After azalea because hardwood, they become very brittle. Branches can snap very easily by accident when azaleas are handled.

The branches are already pretty thick. It may be time to remove some of them because they are becoming too dominant compared to the real trunk. Be careful for reverse taper when two thick banches emerge from the same spot on the trunk.
You can probably grow new ones low on the trunk.

My guess is that this is some kaempferi based hybrid. They are fast and upright growers. Not as basally dominant as some. They often have very long internodes.

After flowering 2 to 7 new buds will grow from the base of the flower. All those places where you see 3 or 4 branches split up from the same trunk is where a flower used to be. It is a quality of many kaempferi hybrids that they are largely bald. They don't bud back on old wood as well as many other azalea. That's why you can see the nodes and internodes so well. All the terminal buds will have flower buds and new shoots with new leaves will grow from there. They will thicken up the sacrifiial branches more.

Often with nursery material you can't really 'work on the roots' much. You will have a very difficult time untangling any roots. They will likely be in pure peat and becuase the roots are so thin, you will rake peat off the root ball with roots and all. It will be hard to clean out a root flare from this. Often most you can do is cut off the bottom 2/3rd part and rake off the matted roots.
If this was grown more with bonsai in mind the root system may be more pliable.
Also, the mix will be easier to get out of the roots and maybe then you can actually see how much fo a root flare you have.
Advantage of azalea though is that they always have tons and tons of fine feeder roots. They don't grow tap roots or roots that try to secure the plant well, like many trees do. You can basically always cut away at the root ball until it fits in your bonsai pot and it will have the roots it needs to survive. Big question is how well the nebari will be.
Using pond baskets for azalea make no sense to me for this reason. They just don't grow roots that try to go long and deep into the ground. They will just ignore what the pond basket does. Grow through the holes and then 'absorb it' into the rootball.

I don't have the experience yet to give advice you should take for sure, but I think what I would try is to cut all the branches and cut off 2/3rd of the root ball and then let it grow uninhibited for at least a year. Maybe the next time try 'futame futaba nokoshi' when the new shoots are kinda newly establishing to increase some ramification. Removing all growing tips will stop inhibiting dormant buds and prevent getting such long shoots.
But before that you have to decide if you want to grow it taller or not and if you want to grow a new set of thicker sacrificial branches.

Especially with how this variety looks, R.kaempferi based hybrid, it doesn't make a lot of sense to start developing branches before the trunk is finished. They don't do foliage pads and finely ramificated branches as well as some other varieties.
You can see how thick those shoots that grew last year already are. You will be doing a mame style without any branches showing if you don't grow it bigger. Kaempferi hybrids grow much more apex strong. But the plant doesn't differentiate between what is the 'trunk' and what is a 'branch'. They will all grow equally. So you have to focus energy into the apex of your design.

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Re: Advice on Azalea

Post  mimstrel on Tue Mar 20, 2012 3:59 pm

OK, so what I am hearing is:
1) re-pot, cleaning up and trimming back the roots. Bigger pot. It looks like the trunk base may be much thicker just at the surface of the soil; I want to see what this portion looks like.

2) cut off some of the long, spindly branches but perhaps leave a couple at different points to continue thickening the trunk.

The center "trunk" actually has a nice line to it as it is and is not in need of wiring at this juncture. The bonsai folks who have seen it in person agree with me on that point. The only thing I forgot to ask them is whether I should chop the old leader that goes off to the left from what I'm currently thinking of as the "front," if I want the new leader to be the right branch which is more in proportion to the current taper of the trunk line. Or do I leave that one there to keep thickening up that portion of the trunk for now? I think I will be able to get better advice on this once I've taken off a few of those spindly things so that the central line is more visible in photos.

I really wasn't thinking about the flowers when I was looking at the trunk and thinking, "that base looks pretty good to me." I bow to your greater expertise and will keep it growing yet; but I don't have any ground to put it in, just a second-floor balcony that's making a good attempt at mimicking a very small forest. Smile almost all of the plants are too small to do anything with them, but I've got wires on a few trunks and the katsura is looking super happy (it's been 80 degrees F out all week), a few other trees are opening buds.
Which I suppose mostly means that if it gets cold again I will have to move them all inside for the night.

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Re: Advice on Azalea

Post  mimstrel on Wed Mar 21, 2012 3:17 am

Re-potted tonight, that was definitely needed. I spent a full hour taking it from crazy-rootbound to some form of order. I snipped off a few roots that were growing in strange directions once I had that done, and re-potted. I used the same pot again because nothing I have is much bigger than the original, and with the roots cleaned up it should be able to grow quite a bit yet in this pot.
I snipped a couple of those spindly things back a ways, and chopped two completely off - one has a young stem growing right beside it, at the very base of the tree (I may take off the young one, too, it's in a strange place and I haven't decided yet if it's doing anything good), and one other that was pretty thick and also growing directly opposite another. I think I have it in a shape that I can post a few more pictures that will show the structure better and I can maybe explain where I'm thinking of going on it, and get some advice from there. So those will be forthcoming.

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Azalea

Post  carsonbm on Wed Mar 21, 2012 3:43 am

What is a pond basket?

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Re: Advice on Azalea

Post  sunip on Wed Mar 21, 2012 7:49 am

Hello Carsonbm,
Here some examples.
Sunip Wink

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Re: Advice on Azalea

Post  JimLewis on Wed Mar 21, 2012 12:15 pm

I hop you planted the snipped branches as cuttings.

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Re: Advice on Azalea

Post  mimstrel on Wed Mar 21, 2012 2:14 pm

JimLewis wrote:I hop you planted the snipped branches as cuttings.
I don't own any rooting hormone... and I've never tried planting cuttings before.
I'll probably be snipping some more; I suppose I could try with them.

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Re: Advice on Azalea

Post  Glaucus on Wed Mar 21, 2012 2:51 pm

Hmm, those holes in that pond basket look quite small. I wonder if azalea roots will really try to grow through it on a large scale. I expected them to be bigger.

As for cuttings, you don't need rooting hormone. But it will be much harder to do hardwood cuttings though. Usually you root cuttings when they are starting to become semi-hardwood. When the green of new shoots turns into yellowish green, that's a good time.

But for rooting cuttings it is a good idea to get a cultivar that has really good properties for bonsai. The things that factor in here most are the nature of the flowers.
Many landscape cultivar have only 1 colour. Also often the flowers are funnel-shaped which I think doesn't look as good. Also, I think hose in hose and filled flowers are less desirable.
I think most desirable are cultivar that grow compact, have naturally small leaves and that have small flowers that are bicoloured or somehow patterned.

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Re: Advice on Azalea

Post  sunip on Wed Mar 21, 2012 6:21 pm

Hello Glaucus.
Here a Amoenum from Esveld you advised me on last year.
I bought a few early in the year, planted a few in the garden and others with suitable trunk movement i worked on.
I cut some branches worked on the roots and repotted in pond baskets but made no change to an other soil mixture yet.
Later in the spring i placed them in the ground and left them there over winter.
Now i took one out for your examination.
Point is, they are not supposed to grow big roots trough those holes (they can however),
having them in the ground like this gives faster results.
And i do not have to water them daily like my pots.
Often when i do not want to repot i simply put the whole in a bigger pond basket,
maybe an idea for a balcony.
Sunip Wink

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Re: Advice on Azalea

Post  mimstrel on Wed Mar 21, 2012 10:20 pm

OK updated pictures!

This is what I'm currently considering the "front."

You can see the line of the main trunk here, as well as a few options for chopping things off. For instance, if you follow the line all the way up and to the left, that last branch segment with all the little leaves on it? I don't like it. It has to go. Do I chop it off now (the next branch right or even the little tiny branch just developing about half an inch below that one - it's behind some leaves in this photo - would be the new leader) or leave it to help the rest of the trunk thicken up? Or, I could (now or at some point in the future) chop all the way back to that first branch going right.

Other views:
1.

2.


Where do I chop off the long spindly things? None of them have any lower branch points, so I can't really shorten them and still leave leaves behind. Or do I want to leave some/all of the remaining ones alone for now?

Here's a closer look at the base, as well, so that you can see the two little ones I left down there, and the trunk a little better.
3.

4.


Thanks!

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Re: Advice on Azalea

Post  sunip on Thu Mar 22, 2012 8:16 am

[quote="mimstrel"]OK updated pictures!
You can see the line of the main trunk here, as well as a few options for chopping things off. For instance, if you follow the line all the way up and to the left, that last branch segment with all the little leaves on it? I don't like it. It has to go. Do I chop it off now (the next branch right or even the little tiny branch just developing about half an inch below that one - it's behind some leaves in this photo - would be the new leader) or leave it to help the rest of the trunk thicken up? Or, I could (now or at some point in the future) chop all the way back to that first branch going right.
Where do I chop off the long spindly things? None of them have any lower branch points, so I can't really shorten them and still leave leaves behind. Or do I want to leave some/all of the remaining ones alone for now?
Here's a closer look at the base, as well, so that you can see the two little ones I left down there, and the trunk a little better.
3.

4.


Hello Mimstrel.
These are already better pictures to work with.
Can you post bigger pictures from all sides?
I notice the feeder roots out of the soil, azalea is rooting near the soil surface,
for a good development of a nerbari some more cover with soil or spagnum would be an idea.
Sunip Wink


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Re: Advice on Azalea

Post  lordy on Thu Mar 22, 2012 12:09 pm

sunip wrote:Hello Glaucus.
Here a Amoenum from Esveld you advised me on last year.
I bought a few early in the year, planted a few in the garden and others with suitable trunk movement i worked on.
I cut some branches worked on the roots and repotted in pond baskets but made no change to an other soil mixture yet.
Later in the spring i placed them in the ground and left them there over winter.
Now i took one out for your examination.
Point is, they are not supposed to grow big roots trough those holes (they can however),
having them in the ground like this gives faster results.
And i do not have to water them daily like my pots.
Often when i do not want to repot i simply put the whole in a bigger pond basket,
maybe an idea for a balcony.
Sunip Wink
I was under the impression that pond baskets were helpful out of the ground, not in the ground. The purpose is to admit air to the root zone so as to keep the roots from growing around the pot. Supposedly when the root gets near the air admitted by the holes they stop growing out and around the pot circumference. It is nature's way of root pruning, if you will. With the plant in the photo above the roots will have to be pruned and require the plant to recuperate. I have a root-over-rock in one that I did last year when I took the tree out of the ground after several years. Not sure it will be ready to come out this year, but I may have a look just to see how things are coming along. If I do I will try to remember to photograph the roots and post them here.

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Re: Advice on Azalea

Post  lordy on Thu Mar 22, 2012 12:11 pm

mimstrel wrote:
JimLewis wrote:I hop you planted the snipped branches as cuttings.
I don't own any rooting hormone... and I've never tried planting cuttings before.
I'll probably be snipping some more; I suppose I could try with them.
Unless the azalea has already bloomed, I would stop cutting altogether at this point. As it is, you may have already taken off the buds that will flower this year. Pruning on azaleas is usually done after the flower withers.

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Re: Advice on Azalea

Post  sunip on Thu Mar 22, 2012 1:18 pm

[quote="lordy"]]
I was under the impression that pond baskets were helpful out of the ground, not in the ground. The purpose is to admit air to the root zone so as to keep the roots from growing around the pot. Supposedly when the root gets near the air admitted by the holes they stop growing out and around the pot circumference. It is nature's way of root pruning, if you will.)

Hello,
Yes, i use them for that as well, works very well.
Using them in the ground is just another possibility to speed up things.
Sunip Wink



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Re: Advice on Azalea

Post  Poink88 on Thu Mar 22, 2012 2:05 pm

I am reading this with much interest because we purchased a (stick trunked) azalea plant with very nice flowers (plant is literally covered with it) and I might try to turn it to bonsai someday.

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Re: Advice on Azalea

Post  lordy on Thu Mar 22, 2012 2:17 pm

generally accepted principles of bonsai design usually go out the window with azaleas. The bloom is the focal point, the design of the tree less important. Prune to accentuate/improve bloom count and vigor. If the material should turn out to be attractive when not in bloom, so much the better.

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Re: Advice on Azalea

Post  sunip on Thu Mar 22, 2012 4:32 pm

lordy wrote:generally accepted principles of bonsai design usually go out the window with azaleas. The bloom is the focal point, the design of the tree less important.
Hello,
It is often like you say but why should that be the case,
one can grow good bonsai out of azalea specially some Japanese varieties?
Sunip Wink

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Re: Advice on Azalea

Post  lordy on Thu Mar 22, 2012 5:09 pm

I dont make the rules. I took that passage from a Japanese azalea grower's explanation of what he does. I dont recall even who it was, and it has been several years since I read it.
Yes, I agree that the form of the tree can be very nice indeed, as well as have beautiful flowers. However, when pruning for flower production, one must forgo the structure's appearance and take what will enable the growth of the most number of flowers, IF that is what you are after. The particular expert I related the experience of was interested in blooms first.

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Re: Advice on Azalea

Post  mimstrel on Thu Mar 22, 2012 11:38 pm

only one of the stems I lopped off had a bud on it. the other buds are still there.

Yes, I agree that the form of the tree can be very nice indeed, as well as have beautiful flowers. However, when pruning for flower production, one must forgo the structure's appearance and take what will enable the growth of the most number of flowers, IF that is what you are after. The particular expert I related the experience of was interested in blooms first.
OK, I can see what you mean... but I guess my thought would be, that I'm not pruning to make this plant look nice right now. I'm pruning to make it look nice in the future. And in that future, I would like it to look nice with or without flowers... and I see no reason why choices made today couldn't be done to enhance both future flower production and future flowerless aesthetics.

Sort of like orchid people who keep their orchids from blooming for several years in a row so that when they do bloom, they throw out massive spikes. I think it's Phals they do this with. Anyway, same concept: there's a long time lag before the beauty can be appreciated.

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Re: Advice on Azalea

Post  Glaucus on Fri Mar 23, 2012 11:05 am

Yes it's true that many satsuki azalea hobbists don't really care about bonsai principles. They have their own principles.

Flower volume isn't an issue here though. Most cultivar already have as much volume as you wish. And in fact, with bonsai or potted plants you often want less than you want with landscape plants. Seeing foliage really improves the look even for meika style azalea.

This azalea was already selected because it has a single trunk. So it makes sense with this one to try a more conservative bonsai design.

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Re: Advice on Azalea

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