Kurume Azalea: cleaning up after the show

Peter Warren once explained to me that azaleas grow old in bonsai pots, because the new growth emerges smaller and smaller, basically constricting the vascular transport system over time. To counteract this tendency, he said it was important to prune them hard every few years to keep the growing tips young and plump. Just like repotting keeps the roots young, and close to the trunk, we need to do this with azalea branches.
So, here is this year’s work after peak blooming. Starting with the money shot:

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Going…

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…going…

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…gone.

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Half of a 5-gallon bucket filled with spent blooms. And if you read last week’s post, you’d already know this only represents about 1/3 of the potential crop!

Next up, the plan was to start at the bottom right, and work my way up. Whatever you’ve read about azaleas being basally dominant doesn’t apply to this tree. The bottom right was the weakest area, so I began there, setting the tone for what was to remain throughout the tree.

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Before pruning:

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I removed up- and down-facing branches, reduced multiples to pairs, and tried to keep shoots that weren’t crowding out other shoots. Right side complete:

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Left side not started, by comparison:

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Finished:

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Note the flaky bark on the right trunk? I was a bit concerned the trunk was dying back, as it already has a dead spot on the back; partly visible where the two trunks split.

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Scrubbing it with an old toothbrush put aside those concerns, as it revealed glimpses of healthy green cambium. It may have the added benefit of encouraging budding back on some of that old wood.

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We’ll wrap up this week’s post with a few close-up shots. Check back later this summer for an update on the tree’s response.

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Thanks for reading! Some exciting posts are coming this summer, including a few new projects, revisiting some old favorites, more Alabama bonsai history, and very soon, a full report on the Alabama Bonsai Society’s Spring Show! This year!s show is May 14-15 at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Join us, along with special guest Master Kathy Shaner. It’s sure to be a great weekend.

Later this fall, we’ll revisit the series, “The Cycle Continues”; looking at the work necessary every 5-7 years to keep improving show-trees.

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4 thoughts on “Kurume Azalea: cleaning up after the show

  1. Good information. Thanks Brian. Peter is the man. And Ron…Peter has a clip on youtube cutting back a satsuki.

  2. Thanks for the pictures Brian, it is a lot of work keeping your trees in the Beautiful shape that you do. Thank you for taking the time to take pictures to share with others.
    “Some exciting posts are coming this summer” hummm… it that a new pool in the background… that exciting for someone!

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