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How to care for Azalea bonsai

Larry Morton

Posted on February 08 2019

Azalea (Rhododendron) likes some shade during the heat of the day. Most appreciate and tolerate much more sun when established and won't bloom in the shade. Leaf scorch and dead twigs are a symptom of drought. Try to keep the fibrous root system from drying out during summer and from being waterlogged during winter. Increasing the amount of fertilizer limits flower production. While having a low fertilization requirement, they respond to some additional nitrogen and chelated iron except during both early and late spring growth spurts. 

Bonsai is sculpture. Just keep in mind azaleas want to be multi-stem basal dominant. They can be pruned to a single trunk and expected to soon bud out again. Rub off unwanted buds and suckers. Reduce the normal five whorled branches to a pair of forked branches in June. But remember, azaleas can't tolerate a heavy pruning of all new growth at the same time. Leave some temporary strong branch growth to support the rest of the plant. Yes, the deadheading of spent flower heads is helpful to conserve its energy reserves.

Pests, if intolerant, are easy to control with improved cultural practices. Or with dormant or summer oil or spray, or an all-in-one systemic (fungicide, miticide, insecticide). Mites are somewhat more common and are controlled with a miticide. Mites are not insects.

One of the most limiting factors for azalea growth is inadequate drainage. The roots thrive in a deep training pot with cool, moist substrate high in organic matter. When the dense vigorous mass of fibrous roots occupy the pot, simply shave off a third to half of the bottom ball and repot in the same pot. 

  • Compact, uniform, low spreading, rounded habit. Fine textured.
  • Easy to rescue overgrown azaleas from landscape sites. Or find recycled from nurseries.
  • An individual flower is of relatively large size but the beautiful mass effect of the overall solid color in full bloom is probably the most endearing feature.
  • The Japanese have popularized the later-blooming Satsuki spp. but there's many thousands of total cultivated acceptable varieties in all species. Some of the earlier flowering varieties such as Kurume spp. are just as rewarding to grow for bonsai. And usually with smaller more refined individual flowers.
  • Satsuki, Indica and Kurume types bloom after most other azaleas. 'Chinzan' is a favorite of Bonsai aficionados with abundant small pink flowers with a red throat.
  • 'Flame Creeper' has red/orange flowers 
  • 'Macrantha' is orange
  • 'Wakebisu' is salmon pink, 'Autumnpurple' Azalea (R fastigiatum) and 'Kyushu' Azalea (Rhodo. Kiusianum) are two of the tiny leaf and flower species. Rebloomers like 'Bloom-A-Thon Red' also make fine bonsai.

 

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