Ben Oki Azalea bust

Sometimes things don’t work out.  This azalea has been reliable for a great show every April for the last 15 years.  This year, it was repotted into a nice Koyo pot, and I was looking forward to the new combination.  I didn’t do much root pruning, just new soil.  As of April 8, it seemed well on the way.

A few days later on April 13, still on track, but maybe a bit slow.  I chalked it up to repotting and a cool spring:

Then, it stalled out entirely.  I gave it another week, and by April 23, it was clear the crop of blooms had blasted:

So, it could be several problems; it dried out, froze, or maybe hit with a pesticide or fungicide.  I’m pretty careful to avoid spraying trees with chemicals while they’re blooming.  Checking the weather almanac, it didn’t freeze between 4/13 and 4/23, but it also didn’t rain.

Here is what I think caused it: I moved the azalea to keep the blooms out of the sun, and apparently the spot didn’t get good coverage by the irrigation system.  Hopefully losing the flowers for a year was the worst of it, and it will be a good growing season, but for now, here it is, cleaned up after the flowering bust.

By mid-May,the weak new growth was very yellow.

I’m thinking it could be one of three things:

1.  Lack of Nitrogen or Magnesium; or the ability to use what’s there.

2.  Fungal problem.

3.  Cumulative effects of 2 years in full sun.

I soaked the tree for a few hours in a solution of Eco-Vie.  I’ve been hitting everything almost weekly with Daconil, so I doubt it’s fungal.  But to be safe, I dunked the tree in a biological fungicide for a few hours to kill off anything that might be soilborne; maybe from the last tree I had in that Koyo pot.

The last option is to move the azalea into a whole lot of shade.  Which I did, in mid-July, as the heat index was hitting 106.  And while it was sitting in the shade, and I was sitting in the house searching the inter webs for other potential causes, I read where (duh) high soil pH presents as light colored leaves, or sections of the tree in azaleas.  So, I bought some soil acidifier and gave it a shot.

So after a month of feeding a soil-acidifying organic fertilizer, the color and turgor are a bit better, but still not impressive.  This is mid-August:

And 10 days later, the foliage color was improving, but the vigor has not.  The lower right branch is still rather yellow:

  I think I’ll remove the flower buds and keep piling on the acidic fertilizer and see how the next 6 months go.

At least it’s still sorta green!

And worst case scenario…ok, second-worst-case scenario, it could be an interesting single-trunk tree.  Hope we don’t get there though.


2017 Repotting: Kurume Azalea

This azalea has been very infrequently repotted; 2008, 2012, and now in 2017.  Azalea roots are fibrous, shallow, and small. They dry out quickly in the air, so it is important to keep a hose nearby.  It’s been in this production-grade Chinese pot for 9 years, and while it was a good fit, it is ready for a better pot.  

Except for an occasional aeration and top-dressing, it’s been repotted into straight kanuma each of the last two repots.  Here are the roots, combed out; and as expected, even after 5 years since the last repot:

This time, I added a bit of pumice and lava.  The automatic watering system seems to keep things just a little on the wet side, and this should dry just a bit faster:

Before the reveal…and just for fun, here is a look back 10 years…2007:

And 2017:

The new pot is a larger Aiba Koyo; 18.5″ wide, green glaze over a dark clay. The effect is very similar, as this pot is only a couple inches wider. It works pretty well. Can’t wait for blooming season!

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:





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.


Before pruning:


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:


Left side not started, by comparison:



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.

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.

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.



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.