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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.

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.

Here are details of the back-budding results:

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.

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.

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.

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

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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 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 was about 80% in full bloom 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.

At the show on April 14, 2019.

Professional azalea growers use plant growth regulating hormone such as gibberellic acid, polyamines and greenhouse temperature to control flower blooms for sale on special occasions. We, hobbyists, have to rely on past experience, mother nature, and 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.

May 2, front view.

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.

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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

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

“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.

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.

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…”

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

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

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

No doubt they really liked this small Japanese Black Pine.

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

Fall Show at the Memorial City Mall:

Seeing these loving senior couple enjoying our show filled me with warm joy. The lady took her time enjoying every tree and her husband was always a step behind her. Don’t you want to grow old together just like them?

Another couple enjoying this South Texas native, a Fiddlewood bonsai with berries.

Many people got close to smell the fragrance of this flowering Water Jasmine.

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