Spring pruning of a Satsuki azalea, ‘Kinsai’

This year’s blooming was spectacular. The blooms covered the entire tree, they were a deep red, and due to selective pruning over the last few years, only a few flowers of the “mother variety”. Here is the show.

And when the blooms begin to fade, it’s time to cut them off.

I used those small red-handled defoliating scissors, hinged at the base to spring back open, making the job a bit easier. And, starting from the top and working my way down, the flowers were trimmed off.

But when I get to the reverted, mother variety flowers, it’s important to remove more than just the bud. The entire shoot or branch needs to go, to prevent their flowers from taking over the tree. Kinsai are adored for the deep red, thin petal flowers. Here is an example of the mother variety flower:

Here is another example where 3 shoots emerge, 2 reverted and one hasn’t. So I can trim back the two, and leave the third.

And I throw these away so I don’t accidentally strike cuttings from these shoots. My luck, those would be the ones to root.

Money shot with all flowers removed.

Next up is pruning. As azalea twigs age, they constrict and weaken, so it is important to cut hard and replace old with new, always renewing the tree and keeping it young.

Interior twigs that have died are removed.

After the first round of pruning:

Next up, just a little wiring to spread out branches and fill in some of the voids.

Since I mentioned cuttings, so far I haven’t had much luck with them. Maybe a 10% strike rate so far, but I decided to try again. This time, I struck 44 cuttings, so let’s see next year how many, if any, remain.

The left tray is all Kinsai, the right tray has Kinsai on the bottom, and another cultivar at the top…the name is lost, but I suspect it is ‘Matsunami’.

A night shot a few days later.

Satsuki Azalea, ‘Matsunami’ … maybe?

This was from a buddy in Mobile. He and I exchanged some Satsuki cuttings, and I think I definitely got the better end of the deal. The cultivar is unknown, but I’m wondering if it is a Matsunami. Here is the parent tree:

And here is the cutting, along with some close-ups of the varied individual flowers.

A few examples on the ‘Matsunami’

Satsuki Mania:

http://satsukimania.com/en/varieties/317-matsunami

Back Yard Gardener:

https://www.backyardgardener.com/plantname/rhododendron-hybrida-matsunami-satsuki-azalea/

Choux Creme:

https://chouxcreme1.wordpress.com/2016/06/19/rhododendron-indium-matsunami/

Kurume Azalea after the show

I’ve been cooped up with the rest of the country, so this tree got the full spa treatment. Removing blooms is getting to be a big task, as the tree has grown to about 32″ wide. So let’s start off with a few money shots at peak bloom before we jump in.

And now the work begins.

Remove all flower parts, down to the husk of the flower:

A close up of spent blooms:

Cut here:

To end up like this:

Then, prune back fairly hard. As azaleas age, the branches constrict and the cambium becomes thin, so it’s important to prune hard to keep renewing the tree with young growth. I cut back branches to pairs of evenly-sized shoots, and replace heavy branches with finer branches.

Here is a close up example of pruning back a typical branch with multiple whorls, long internodes, and upward growth:

Cut here:

To end up with this:

Another example where outer growth is getting old and weaker:

See this area, how it hasn’t really started moving yet?

Prune back, leaving balanced new growth to replace the older growth on the ends:

The end result is a little rough to start with, but with a few weeks of growth, the tree will look renewed, and I can hope for strong new growth throughout the tree.

Before:

After:

Closer shots, before and after of some branches.

Upper left:

And lower right:

Underside the left trunk shows taper of branches, pruning back to pairs, and fairly even spacing to allow for balanced growth:

I have grown this azalea in a bonsai pot for 15 years now, and never given it a break from blooming. I think this year, I’ll remove the flower buds as they form and give it next year off.

At some point, I knew I’d have to address the rot at the split in the trunks on the back. It had become soft.

So, using a long drill bit, I bore a hole through to the bottom of the pot to help drain away water.

Then, clean away all the soft wood using a gouge.

Apply a preservative, I use water-based PC Petrifier.

After

And a video walk around:

https://youtu.be/53lR-NURqso

Next year, I’ll repot, and prune more conservatively. For now, the tree is returned to the bench, with a heavy dose of acidic organic fertilizer, and allowed to grow for the summer.