Satsuki Azalea After-Flowering Maintenance, Part 2 – Back Budding Results

In my last post, I discussed the basics of how to prune back azalea to two shoots and two leaves after removing the flowers.  In this post, I will show back budding results from those cut-backs.

This Wakaebisu has been under development for about 10 years from a nursery stock.  Although it has a good trunk base and nebari, I decided to train it into a meika azalea to enjoy the flowers instead of a shorter moyogi style bonsai.

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This is a 2018 photo. I did not take one this year.

The after-flowering maintenance was done on May 22.  By June 10, a lot of buds have popped up from where the shoots were pruned to two leaves and on some hardwood branches.

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Here are details of the back-budding results:

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A indicates where new leaf buds emerged from where the shoots were cut back to two leaves.

B indicates buddings further back on the branches.

This tree has developed the basic fan-like pad structures, it is now a matter of selecting newly formed buds and let them grow into side branches to develop ramifications. Similar profusion of back buddings also occurred at near the apex, which gave choices for top development.

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In the following photo, a two-year old branch was shortened to create a more proportional bifurcation with the other branch.  As long as a small branchlet, C, was left untouched, there was no danger of the shortened branch dying.  For a strong and healthy tree, back budding would occur on branches cut back without leaving any leaves, but it is always safe to leave something to make sure there is no die back.  The removal of auxin of the shortened branch also encouraged a profusion of back buddings.

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Azalea forms two kinds of shoots: one which readily flowers; the other is strong in vegetative growth and behaves like a water sprout in trees, which fattens very quickly.  I kept these two vegetative shoots without cutting their growing tips.  When they lignified, I have a choice of either cutting them back to extend the ramifications or cut-off the side branch at the red line to change the angle of bifurcation.

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By doing this type of pruning repeatedly and directing growth energies to selected new shoots, a tree would develop the desired structures more quickly.


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.


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.


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.

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.


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.


Sun scorched flowers after sitting in the car.


Less scorched area.


Started removing the flowers.


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.

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



Old Ficus microcarpa in the Garden.

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


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


Another juniper by Mr. Ho Yong-Yu.


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).


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


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




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




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




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.


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!


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