A Care Calendar for Satsuki Azalea Bonsai

Researched and Written for the Satsuki Azalea Society by Ray Beddow

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APRIL This is the month when Satsuki’s really begin to wake up after the winter’s rest, particularly if they have been over-wintered under cover. Main areas of growth are as mentioned above but also “sucker” like growths are commonly seen growing from roots at or just below the soil surface. Unwanted growth can easily be rubbed off but before you do have a good look at the design of the tree first to assess if any of these shoots might be in just the right place to develop into new branches. On strong growing varieties of Satsuki up to five or more shoots will grow from around the base of flower buds so to stop the flowers being swamped by foliage later in the year it is best to thin these out to two, preferably horizontal shoots either side of the bud. Continue feeding throughout this month using fertilizers specially formulated for ericaceous plants. As an alternative, there is an excellent fertilizer from Japan called “Biogold.” This comes as small cubes that you press into the surface of the soil. Unfortunately, this is only available from Bonsai Nurseries. Trees still under cover can be brought out now but be careful of sudden frosts. They are unlikely to kill a tree but they can damage flower buds.

MAY Flower buds will be swelling nicely now, in fact some will be showing colour or even be open depending on weather conditions and how the plant has been over wintered. Strong growing shoots from the base of the buds should be trimmed back to allow the flowers space to open. Because of the prolific number of flowers, a tree can produce, to reduce stress it is good practice to reduce the number by anything between 30 – 50%. On a show tree, this can be achieved by removing most of the flowers from the back. On young plants, being grown on it would be advisable to remove all the flowers to encourage maximum growth. Stop feeding now. This will encourage a longer flowering period. Providing some kind of temporary shelter to protect the buds and flowers from rain will stop them from discolouring. For the same reason, be extra careful when watering. This temporary shelter will also serve as a sunshade to help stop flowers fading prematurely. This is a busy time in the growth pattern of Satsuki and demand for water will increase

JUNE Remove all flower heads. Although this can be a tedious, time consuming job it is important to prevent the production of seed, which puts undue stress on a tree at a time when it needs to recover from the rigours of flowering. New growth slows for a short period after flowering and this is an ideal time for repotting, wiring and pruning/trimming to shape. (See Pruning Azalea Bonsai) Feeding can re –commence once flowering has finished but wait a few weeks if trees have been repotted. Likewise, care should be taken not to over water newly repotted trees. As mentioned previously, Satsuki, like all other azaleas and rhododendrons, produce a profusion of new shoots from the base of old flower buds. With Satsuki, it is best to remove all unwanted shoots leaving just two, one either side of the bud. These are then trimmed back to two pairs of leaves.

JULY Some late flowering varieties will still be in flower this month. Allowing trees to flower this late in the year can have a long-term detrimental effect on the plants health. Hard as it seems, all flower buds/flowers should be removed, especially if the tree is about to be repotted. Leaving flowers on this late will weaken the tree at a time when it should be producing next year’s flower buds. A short time after flowering is over a second spurt of growth occurs. Satsuki are relatively pest free but keep a watch out for greenfly, red spider mite and vine weevil. Satsuki’s will tolerate or even appreciate a position in full sun but will tolerate semi-shade.

AUGUST All repotting and pruning should be finished by now. From now on Satsuki’s should be allowed to build up strength for the winter and it is also during this period that next years flower buds are produced. Continue regular feeding and watering. This year’s shoots will still be extending but slowing down now. These shoots will carry next year’s flowers. Any shoots that were trimmed earlier in the season might well be showing secondary shoots growing from them. If these are strong enough they will also produce flower buds. Some light trimming and removal of unwanted growth can still be carried out but remember that trimming at this time of year will mean removing flower buds.

SEPTEMBER Pretty much as per August. Growth will be slowing right down now; subsequently watering needs will be less however continue feeding.

OCTOBER As previously described, Satsuki have two distinct growth periods, one in the spring prior to flowering and again after flowering. The leaves produced in the first flush of growth will start changing colour this month and eventually fall. Unfortunately there is no spectacular autumn colour display like many other Bonsai subjects, just a change from Green to Yellow although I have seen the leaves of red varieties turn to a shade of red like a maple, but this only happens occasionally.
The second flush of growth in the summer, mainly clustered around the flower buds, will remain on throughout the winter. Remove all leaf litter from the surface of the compost.

NOVEMBER & DECEMBER. Generally as October. Late October/early November is the time of year to start preparing winter quarters for trees. A cold greenhouse is ideal but any cover that will offer some protection from heavy frosts and in particular, constant, heavy rain will do. Remember that Satsuki’s are not deciduous so a dark shed or garage will not do! During the winter try to provide as much ventilation and light as possible to avoid mildew.
Water as required -do not over water.

Remember that you will need to compensate for the above timings by up to a month depending on where you live in the country. These timings are based on the UK, therefore the northern hemisphere in terms of seasons.

This article has been republished with the kind permission of the Satsuki Azalea Society (UK). For more information and images of Satsuki Azalea Bonsai, please visit the Society website here.

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