Hard pruning to encourage growth?

Azaleas get very twiggy, and become brittle after a few years. As they age and become brittle, the cambium constricts at the twiggy new growth, and eventually causes the tree to weaken. Peter Warren talks about keeping trees “young” by hard-pruning them every few years.

I had let my kurume azalea grow for the last 10 years or so with very little hard-pruning and it started to decline. Look at this progression.

April 2017:

October 2017, after a full growing season, unpruned from the photo above. Look at the anemic growth:

March 2018 before pruning:

And April 2018, after hard-pruning:

It might be difficult to see how hard I pruned it back because the profile is still roughly the same. However, I removed about 1/3 of the ramification, back to secondary branches and leaving a few tertiary branches. The best way to compare is by looking at how much thicker the trunk appears in the photo just above from the one above with a few blooms opening.

A lot was removed, and I was a bit nervous as to how it would respond. Now look at the October 2018 shot:

This tree was last repotted in 2016, and sat on the same bench, same feed, same everything, with the exception of the pruning.

Below is a side-by-side comparison. Spring, no pruning on the left, pruned on the right:

And the after the resulting growing season, not pruned left, pruned right:

I did the heavy pruning just after I removed the fading flowers in April. Likely, I’ll do it again next spring.

The pot? 19″ wide Koyo, signed, stamped, and with the Fuji-en stamp. Dark clay, aqua glaze, with bamboo patterns on the rim and feet.

And here is a fall-color shot…really nice show this year.


Some fall color shots

Rain followed by several days of sunshine has produced some very nice fall colors in the garden. Here are a few shots of the show.

Shohin Clump-style Japanese Maple in a Koyo pot:

Chishio Improved Japanese Maple in a Yamaaki pot:

Root over rock trident maple in an Ino pot:

Shohin crabapple in a Roy Minerai pot:

Hawthorn in a Suishoen pot:

Arakawa Japanese Maple in an old Yozan pot:

Ginkgo in an old Heian Kouso pot:

And a little display of fall colors…


Last weekend was the first session of Bjorn’s intensive course. I cannot remember the last time I spent three days working on trees, and it was good to have enough time to get into a groove again. I don’t know about you, but sometimes it’s hard to do bonsai in 30-minute increments when it’s anything more involved than removing wire or performing a quick trim.

Here are a few shots from around his nursery, Eisei-en near Nashville, TN. It is a tranquil place with lots of nice trees, mostly comprised of large, domestically collected junipers and pines, with plenty of other gems tucked in and around.

Japanese Beech:

One-seed juniper:

One-seed juniper:

Trident maple:


Trident maple:

Chojubai quince:

Trident maple:

One-seed juniper:

Massive One-seed junipers (that’s an 8′ high fence):

Scots Pine:

One-seed (or Rocky Mountain?) juniper:

Looking back toward the gate, workshop is on the right:

Trident maples:

Chinese Quince:

We discussed fall cleanup, some design aesthetics and horticulture, but mostly we worked on trees. Reps.


Bjorn and I have worked on this Kishu Shimpaku juniper together for several years now, culminating in an appearance in the 4th US National Bonsai Exhibition in 2016. It seemed fitting to bring it to his nursery for the next phase in its development; committing to a direction. It is pretty balanced left to right, but the trunk definitely has movement: in your eye, does it move left or right?

The main section of trunk suggests right, but overall I feel the foliage wants to move back to the left. Mainly because of how the live vein exits the soil, and how the branch structure suggests everything moves up and then sweeps back to the left. The first branch is on the right, and the trunk moving to the right could work, but then I think that movement fights with the base, and the whole tree would need to be taller and thinner to move right. And I have a different vision for the tree than a tall, right-moving juniper with what would be an S-curve trunk.

Here is the starting point.

First step was to remove weak, inner growth, and the spindly stuff that would likely die over the winter anyway. That’s my new friend Jesse in the background, a fellow student who is from Michigan and brand-new to Bonsai. Nothing like jumping in with both feet! He was very gracious and watched some of the Bama LSU game on Saturday. I didn’t realize he’d be in the next few shots in a row, hope he doesn’t mind…

Next step was to prune to create (or leave) a bifurcated branch structure. Word of the weekend.

Then wiring…for about 10 hours when you’re slow or rusty. But I got there!

And the “after” shot. We are committing to the foliage and movement of the tree to the left, so it will take a little time to grow into the look, but the branches are set, pads are defined, and plan is in place.

So, for fun, here are the results after each of the last 3 styling efforts.

2015, first full wiring since purchased:

2016, tidied up in preparation for the National Show:

And 2018, advancing the design by shifting the movement more to the left:

Next spring, the left side will be allowed to elongate, while the right side will be kept tighter. It will also be repotted, tilting the tree slightly more forward, and rotated just a bit counter-clockwise. Finally, we’ll address that scar in the middle live vein. That will be the topic for another post for sure.