Losing trees: The Ben Oki Azalea

I have read that Kurume azalea are good for 20-30 years as bonsai, and this one has been containerized now for 20. Unfortunately, I’ve known it wasn’t long for the road for the last few years. I’m glad to have enjoyed it in a bonsai pot since I styled it with Ben Oki over 15 years ago. But the trunks have large dead spots in the back, and have gradually rotted away until some right-side branches critical to the current design have died. So this is the last time to enjoy the show of this twin-trunked azalea. I am satisfied that I have done well by the design set by Mr. Oki all those years ago in an Iowa machine shop, but bonsai is a 4-dimension art, with that 4th dimension being time, which takes its toll on everything.

So here is the show, as of 4/15:

Here are areas of dieback on the right side:

And even more pronounced from this angle:

Here is a shot from below, showing the relative health of the left side.

Here is a shot from the back showing the rotting trunks.

If I simply reduce the dead spots on the right, I’m delaying the inevitable. I have often wondered if the left side was strong enough to be interesting on its own. Especially because the right side has a couple very straight sections with really no taper.

Here are a couple views of a potential new front.

While the dead and dying branches needed to go, I went slowly with the hope of finding a stopping point which would preserve as much of the tree as I could.

Top first:

A little further…

I considered working with what remained above, but the right trunk’s flaws were on full display, so…

Leaving us with this potential front:

Next order of business is to remove the flowers. I like the idea of retaining the leftward-movement.

Now, a good first round of pruning.

And some wiring is started

Continuing, photo-check, edited to show some adjustments needed:

Adjustments made…

Pretty sure it hasn’t been repotted in 4 years, and the roots were a matted mess, which required an hour of combing and hosing to reduce. Then, I made some wedge-shaped cuts to work new soil into, and provide space for new roots to grow.

Soil is Kanuma and lava, 2:1.

Pot by Byron Myrick. It has the right feel, but is slightly too shallow to get the perfect angle. Next time…

The planting angle I wanted was tricky because the root ball was so dense, so I settled for a compromise. Next repotting, I’ll try to get it tilted up just a bit more like this:

4 thoughts on “Losing trees: The Ben Oki Azalea

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