Itoigawa Shimpaku summer work

I last wired this one 2 years ago, and the wire was digging in. It had also gotten fairly dense, and as is the case, weak areas got weaker, and strong areas got stronger.

So this work was to remove the wires, and then trim the tree back to restore some balance.

Here is the tree before the work…bushy!

After unwiring, it really has a case of bed head.

And before pruning back:

Some detail of the cleanup, here’s what gets cut.

Crotch Growth
Dead stuff
Weak juvenile growth
Long runners

Starting with this:

Ending with this, branches ending in pairs of growth “tufts”:

This will make fall wiring much simpler!

Another branch example:

In all, about 1/3 of the foliage was removed, but most of it was inefficient, shaded out and weak.

What’s left has space in the sun, and good balance for even growth for the rest of the growing season. Here are some shots after the work:

Underside of the first left branch
Underside of the first right branch
Looking up into the tree, notice there is plenty of space for air and sunlight.
Overhead shot looking down over the tree. Good distribution.

One more shot a few days later, after foliage has had a chance to settle in again:

In the fall, the tree will be wired again, with less but similar thinning out. I’m still on the hunt for a good pot…

Losing trees: Japanese Maple, Chishio improved

Ok, this series is intentionally humbling as it demonstrates my failures with the hope of avoiding them again, and maybe someone out there can also avoid them. The good news is that I didn’t lose this tree. I did lose a few years of work, but optimistically the tree will be better in the long run. And if bonsai is about anything at all…it’s the long run.

I wired the tree over Thanksgiving 2019, just after leaf fall. This:

To this:

Replacing fat branches with finer branches and balancing the overall density. No problem, right time of year, so what could go wrong?



Trouble…so I decided to not repot, and not add another insult. First time in 15 years I skipped a year of repotting. I believe we had some nights in the low 20s in late January, and it may have killed some of the branches.

Early April, clearly I’m losing branches:

Time to trim the long stuff and see if we can jump-start some budding in the interior.

Left side good:

Right side bad:

Trimming back, mid April, before and after:

Late April, and some interior budding is forming in the bare areas:

Late May, and the wire needs to come off, and the left side is very dense, compared to the weak right side.

Before unwiring;


Since the April trim back encouraged some budding, and new shoots were starting to grow, I decided to partially defoliate the tree and allow light to reach the interior, as well as balance the tree and give the new shoots a shot at growing. Here is an upper branch, before:


And likewise on a lower right branch where some dieback occurred, new branches were starting to take off:

So I wired them, removed the inner leaves, and removed the growing tips. This should result in back-budding at the axils of the removed leaves:

After the work is done, the tree looks pretty rough. It always does until the leaves reorient themselves in the sun.

A night shot shows the result a little better:

And, just a few weeks later, new buds and shoots have formed all over:


Interior branch:

I’ll let it grow a bit longer, and wire the green shoots I plan to keep in a few weeks. Next spring, I’ll repot it and work the roots pretty thoroughly.

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.



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.


And a video walk around:

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.