Satsuki Azalea After-Flowering Maintenance

The best part of growing satsuki is when they are in full blooms but they only peak for about two weeks and then begin to decline. When 30-40% of the flowers have faded, it is time to remove all the flowers, fertilize the tree and do the after-flowering maintenance work.

Why the After-Flowering Maintenance?

  1. Flowers use up a lot of the tree’s energy.  It is better to remove all of them, including the unopened buds, when 30-40% of the flowers have faded.  Fertilize the tree to thank it for putting out a good show, then selectively trim back shoots and branches to improve air flow and allow sunlight into the interior.
  2. The purpose of trimming shoots is to control growths, force back buddings and improve ramifications.  One can select which branch to trim or which one to allow continuous growth to improve the overall tree structure.

I will use this 4-5 year old Osakazuki grown from a cutting to show how the shoots are trimmed after flowering.

Trimming Whorl Forming Shoots

Azaleas tend to develop a whorl of several shoots coming out from a single point. For ramification we only need to keep two shoots at each branching point.

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Two whorls of shoots grew from the ends of previously trimmed Y-shape tips.

Four shoots of the right side whorl were cut off, either with scissors or broken off by bending them backwards with fingers, leaving two with similar strengths.

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After removing four shoots and leaving a pair of  Y-shape shoots in the directions of new growths.

The left one has three shoots; the center shoot was removed leaving a pair of Y-shape shoots.

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The center shoot was broken off leaving two equal strength shoots for growth.

You can stop here for a young seedling still in development and allow the pair of Y-shape shoots to continue growing.

If your tree is in an intermediate developmental stage, you can trim the shoots further back leaving two leaves on each axil. This removes auxin at the growing tips and forces back budding, two new shoots will grow at the petioles and create ramification.

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After-flowering maintenance done over two years developed ramifications from one shoot to two, to four and to eight when new shoots come out from the petioles later this year.

What if the shoots are still too long after cutting back to two leaves? For a healthy tree, you can trim further back without leaving any leaves on the shoots to get more proportional ramifications.

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Let’s say you want to have an even shorter internode, all you need to do is cut further back to last year’s wood to force new growths. Although one can cut back to old wood during the active spring growing season, it is always safer to leave a few leaves behind to avoid possible branch die back.

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Putting These Into Practice

How much to trim after flowering depends on the developmental stage the tree. There is no need to do anything for a young seedling, just let it grows. If the tree is ready for styling and you want to have some controls on how new shoots grow, then do the trim back described above. The tree will look like a plucked chicken after trim back but new buds will come out soon and the tree will be full again later this year. See my old post One-Year Progression of A Shohin Chinzan Satsuki Azalea Bonsai.

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If the tree is already well ramified and is in a show quality stage, the same principles apply. The after-flowering maintenance is like giving the tree a new hair-cut to maintain the outer profile, remove dense foliage to check on wiring, allow light and air to filter into the interior. I usually feed the tree with fertilizer for couple of weeks after removing the flowers before the trim back.

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Flowering of a Chinzan Satsuki Azalea – Murphy’s Law

I started this ‘Chinzan’ satsuki azalea from a nursery gallon plant about 17-18 years ago. It was grown in a flower bed for about 7-8 years, lifted and trained as a bonsai in a pot since then.

I prepared this tree for the April 11-14 American Bonsai Society Convention hosted by the Houston Bonsai Society, and expected it to have partial blooms based on past experience. Unfortunately we had several days of unusually cold weather in late March; as a result the Chinzan was covered with swelling buds but not a single bloom during the show. A week later, flowers started to come out and had about 80%  blooms by the following week. So it went from a tree with no flower to fully covered with flowers, but only after the show! A bummer.

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At the show on April 14, 2019.

Professional azalea growers use plant growth regulating hormone such as gibberellic acid and greenhouse temperature to control flower blooms for sale on special occasions. We, hobbyists, have to rely on past experience when did flowering occurred, mother nature, with little or no control over the exact timing of flowers except crossing our fingers. Hind sight, I should have sprayed it with gibberellic acid which I have at home, and hoped for the best. May be worth to experiment to gain some knowledge.

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May 2, front view.

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I brought the full bloom Chinzan and a few other cultivars, their flowers were on the way out, to share in our May 4 society meeting. On the way home, my wife and I stopped by Costco to buy some stuffs. Although we parked the car away in a shady spot, when we got home flowers on top of this Chinzan had suffered sun scorch. Instead of enjoying the flowers for one more week, I removed them today and will start the satsuki azalea after flower maintenance routine, such as trimming back and thinning the branches to improve air flow, light penetration and forced back leaf budding, and fertilize the tree to thank it for putting out so much flowers.

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May 4, Houston Bonsai Society meeting, fully covered with flowers. I also brought a Chikuho whip, Hoshi no kagayaki and Kongo no hikari in gallon pot for sharing. Wakaebisu at the end was by another member.

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Sun scorched flowers after sitting in the car.

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Less scorched area.

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Started removing the flowers.

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May 7, back to no flowers like April 14, except no flower buds.

Moral of the story, head home right away with flowering tree in the car! At least cover the plant for protection, tinted windows won’t protect your plant.

Faces of Joys and Fascinations I Saw in Bonsai Shows

Most clubs hold bonsai show once or twice a year. Typically the shows are formal with bonsai on stands, some accompanied by kusamono or scrolls against backdrops, some even have judging and awards for best trees.

For the last few years our club has held informal shows at the Houston Japanese Garden in conjunction with the Japanese Festival, and most recently at a local shopping mall. The number of visitors are phenomenal. We brought 1,300 copies of our club brochures to these two shows, and they were all gone. We estimated at least two thousand people saw our shows, and we also recruited several new members! Such an exposure of bonsai art to a wide audience is not easy to achieve in a formal show.

To me, the most gratifying reward participating in these informal shows is to see the joys these little trees brought to our visitors, many of them saw bonsai for the first time; their reactions, from curiosities to fascinations, the questions and amount of photos they took, made all the volunteering efforts worthwhile. Here are some of the heart warming photos from this year’s shows:

Spring Show at the Japanese Garden

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Beautiful sunny spring day and the Japanese Festival brought a lot of visitors to the Japanese Garden.

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“Are these special kind of trees?”, “How old is the tree?”, “What kind of tree is it?”  These were frequent questions asked by visitors. We like questions, it meant we had piqued their interests.

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Pete Parker explaining how he worked on a Yaupon bonsai. An interested visitor picked up our club brochure. We brought 800 copies to the spring show and they were gone by the next afternoon.

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A demo by Soon Cheah,  Best Kusamono winner of the 2016 US National Bonsai Show. A lot of visitors were fascinated by these cute little plants, and drew comments like: “These are weeds…I have a lot of them in my garden”, “I didn’t know weeds could be so beautiful…”

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Who knows these two little girls might get into bonsai in the future from this encounter?

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A senior couple closely examined the root-over-rock Melon Seed Ficus to convince themselves there was indeed a rock beneath those roots.

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Flowering bonsai like this bougainvillea always draw oohs and aahs. Glad to see these happy faces.

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No doubt they really liked this small Japanese Black Pine.

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Mmm.. This does look like a big banyan tree.

Fall Show at the Memorial City Mall: Continue reading

Taiwan Bonsai Journey 3 – Juniper Bonsai at the Wanjing Garden

The Wanjing Art Garden (万景艺苑) is one of the six venues of the 2017 Taiwan BCI Asia-Pacific Bonsai and Viewing Stones Exhibitions. It occupies an area of about 5 hectares. The garden has a collection of rare native Taiwan trees, Chinese pavilion, ponds, bonsai and an art museum. It used to be a private garden, owned by Mr. Chen Chang-Hsing (陈苍興), who is also the co-Chairman of this year’s BCI exhibitions. The garden was opened to the public in May, 2014 and had hosted many bonsai events.

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Juniper bonsai displayed along the path to the museum which is constructed with large hinoki cypress beams.

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Old Ficus microcarpa in the Garden.

The following juniper bonsai were displayed specially for the BCI event, and were of exceptional quality.

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A Taiwan Juniper by Mr. Ho Yong-Yu, a young second generation bonsai master from Taichung’s Yu Yuan,

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Another juniper by Mr. Ho Yong-Yu.

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Details of the shari and twisted trunk.

Continue reading

Taiwan Bonsai Journey 2 – More Trees from the Hwa Fong Show

As I walked into the main exhibition area of the Hwa Fong Show, a row of magnificent bonsai set against steel-gray background captivated my attention! Upon reading the labels, these were past Hwa Fong’s winners, they were on display by invitation only. I do not know whether this is a tradition of the Taiwan national show or this was specially arranged for the benefits of foreign visitors participating this joint BCI event.

Among them were beautiful tropical species such as Premna and Sea Hibiscus which are seldom seen in shows outside of the South East Asian region.

Sea Hibiscus (Hibiscus tilaceous) is a tropical species. In nature, the leaves are very large, however, they could be reduced to tiny leaves. Ramifications in these bonsai are astounding. Looking at the dense twigs, it would take several days and a great patience to defoliate. Here are two past winning Sea Hibiscus owned by Su Wen-Hong (蘇文宏).

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Hibiscus tilaceous, height: 92 cm. A 2009 Hwa Fong Show winner.

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Another Su Wen-Hong’s Hibiscus tilaceous, height: 99 cm, which won a Special Award in the 2010 show.

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A 2016 winning Juniperus chinensis, height: 85 cm., by Lin Qiu-An (林秋安):

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A 93 cm tall Juniperus chinensis, a 2007 winner owned by Liu Chan-Ling (劉燦琳):

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Continue reading

Taiwan Bonsai Journey 1 – Hwa Fong Show

The Hwa Fong Show is the most prestigious bonsai show in Taiwan. It is held once a year in November. Exhibited trees went through rigorous selections and this is where one can see some of the highest quality Taiwan bonsai in one place. This year’s 22nd annual show was jointly held with the 14th Bonsai Club International (BCI) Asia-Pacific Bonsai and Viewing Stone Convention from November 4-6. My last visit to Taiwan was eight years ago. With this major show, Professor Amy Liang’s invitation to attend the opening ceremony and banquet of her bonsai garden, “The Purple Garden”, opportunities to meet old friends and several Facebook friends for the first time, and shopping for bonsai accessories, especially bonsai stands; my wife and I decided to take a two-week Taiwan bonsai journey.

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The exquisitely dressed Professor Amy Liang in purple, her favorite color, during the opening ceremony of her “Purple Garden”. More about it in a future post.

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Met Facebook friend, Mr. Chun Sheng Chen (陳春生), for the first time at the opening of the Purple Garden. Mr. Chen conducts bonsai classes in Taipei, and helps out at Professor Amy Liang’s garden. He has a lot of good looking shohin!

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My wife with Mr. and Mrs. Clifford Chong (張珺理), met also for the first time after being friends for 2-3 year on Facebook.

 

Hwa Fong Show 華風展 

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A 2014 Grand Champion Podocarpus costalis greeted visitors of the entrance of the exhibition venue. The tree was 80 cm tall.

The Hwa Fong Show is held in the Xizhou Park (溪州公園) of Changhua county, in the central part of Taiwan. Although it is close to many horticultural production centers, landscaping and bonsai nurseries etc., it is not so easy to get there without a car. It is even harder for foreign visitors to get to the park without knowing which train and bus to take, which left the only option of taking the BCI convention buses. However, wait time and an hour journey, each way, from the Taichung convention venue to the exhibit limit the amount of time one could spend at the exhibition hall. Though not familiar with Taiwan, since we speak Chinese we decided to take train and taxi on our own so we could stay as long as we want to. Continue reading

Defoliating Ficus Bonsai

Defoliating ficus bonsai can be tedious as there are literally thousands of leaves to remove. For a shohin, this could be easily done in half an hour or less but for a large tree, it would take several hours depending on how big and how ramified the tree is. When I prepared the Ficus microcarpa (19′ H x 36″ W) for last year’s 5th US Nationals , it took me 6 hours, spread over two days. But there are short cuts.

This microcarpa measures about 54″ across and is a large tree. I have been working on it for at least 15 years from an imported raw material, basically a cut-down bare-rooted tree with stubby trunks. I have been concentrating on developing branches with good taper. The tree has developed reasonably good secondary and tertiary branch ramifications, and now is the time for finer ramifications to fill out gaps between those branches.

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Since it had been growing freely from last defoliation about a year ago, there were a lot of new growths and it looked bushy. I am not going to start cutting off each leaf from such a large tree, it would take me several days! As I am familiar with the tree’s branch structures from previous works, I just treated it like an overgrown bonsai and simply cut off all the branches back to the tree’s silhouette, a quick hatchet job.

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This is how it looked after cutting back the excessive growths. Now defoliation looks much more manageable, I then selectively cut the branches where I want to develop finer ramifications. Below is an example of where to cut, indicated by the red lines:

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Branches, labeled A, were older growths. They were defoliated perhaps a couple of years ago, from which new buds popped up and grew into smaller twigs, B. Branches A have now served their purposes, they can either be cut off completely to get a Y-branching like the one on the left; or as in the case of the right branches, shortened to encourage back buddings; by removing the strong upper growth, it allows the small branch B to grow and thicken.

This process is repeated for the whole tree. This is how it looks after cutting back branches A and B.

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C is the newly formed syconia, ficus’s fruits which should also be removed to direct growth energies to the new buds.

Nearly all the leaves were removed except for a few small inner branches, leaves were left untouched for them to thicken further.

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July 26, 2017, after defoliation and cut back.

I left the defoliated tree under full sun. My wife and I then happily vacationed for the next two weeks. It thrived and budded very well when we returned. These are the new growths photographed on August 15.

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August 15, 2017.

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There were profusions of back buddings and new growths. Generally, back buddings and growths occur near the cut tips and along the branches up to about 5″ away from the cuts. By removing the auxin-rich branch tips, back buddings are encouraged but there is a limit as to how far back buds could grow. It is rare to see buds pop up all the way down to the main trunk in a large and mature tree like this.

The following two photos show back buddings in two of larger branches. Buds formed as far down 8-12″ from the cut ends. These buds are good for developing inner branches. My observation is stronger branch tend to bud back further down. There might perhaps be a relationship between the strength of the branch and how much cytokinin is activated for lateral back budding.

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August 15, 2017.

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Some branches buds later than the others. The right branch in the following photo has three new growths while the left branch is still barren. Upon close examination, there were some tiny green specks indicating some buds will pop up soon, they are somehow suppressed more than the others.

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With back budding in full swing, it is time to select which one to keep and which one to remove. This is a photo of the branch I worked on. It is growing almost vertically upwards.

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To see which new growths to remove, tilt the branch in the direction where you would wire in the future. It is easier to see which new growths to remove. Keep the new side growths and remove those pointing upwards, downwards or too close to each other. The red lines indicate where the unwanted growths were cut off.

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This is after removing the unwanted growths, and energies will be directed to growing and thickening only those branches we want to keep.

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Should I Remove the Fertilizer or Not After Defoliation?

That depends on the purpose of the defoliation. If it is to prepare the tree with more uniform and smaller leaves for an upcoming show, then remove the fertilizer and apply light fertilization with fish emulsions when the new leaves have hardened off. If the tree is still under development, I do not remove the fertilizer tea bags. Leaf size may be uneven but growth of the new twigs are benefited by the readily available fertilizer, and with good unobstructed sunlight for photosynthesis after defoliation, they are fed as soon as they emerged. I did not find the young leaves to suffer fertilizer burn even the pot is piled with organic tea bag fertilizer.

Those familiar with summer decandling of Japanese Black Pine to get short needles, the advise is not to fertilize for the first month to keep the needles short. However, ficus is quite a different beast, it has so many latent buds, branches can be severely cut back and they bud back readily. It would be better to continue fertilizing, thicken new growths as fast as possible during developmental stage; when it is time uniform small leaves and fine twigs are needed, one or two more controlled defoliations would do the job.