Deciduous Azalea Techniques

amcoffeegirl

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Stone cold sober with a generic reply to an inappropriate suggestion that he is the Field Judge making the rules of conversation. Read my post again and tell me exactly what is not pertinent to learning if anyone has ever reduced the internodes on North American Azalea by asking for pictures? Who says I am not now or never have tried working on one? I hate bullies, and I fight back. Go ahead, -knock that chip off my shoulder.
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Leo in N E Illinois

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I've been wanting to get some Azaleas going on the roster. Picked up these 2 from Lowes today and stumbled onto this thread.

Should I repot right away? I dont have any kanuma which I read is a bonus, also my communities water is really hard.
A couple thoughts about your azalea.

First, your azalea are in nursery pots that look sufficiently large enough that there is no urgent need to repot. This is important. Repotting is the most traumatic thing we do to our trees. It is worth taking the time to gather the best materials practical, and the "right pots" to move them into. So given that repotting is not an emergency situation. Delay repotting until you have the materials you need or want to use, and appropriate pots for growing these on, or bringing them down in size, what every your plans are for these trees. I would go for a finished size a bit larger than current size, as I think some of the awkward issues with internode length might be less obvious in a larger size tree. Since they are sufficiently winter hardy to not need to be brought indoors in winter, size of the finish tree is less an issue.

There are two or three windows of time for repotting deciduous trees in general. Early spring, just as buds are swelling. This is a short period of time, from buds swelling, to buds opening too far, is a matter sometimes of only 2 or 3 weeks.

Second window of opportunity, especially for those of us with relatively cool, wet summers (for example, in my area we average less than 10 days per year over 90 F or 32 C). This window is after the first flush of foliage has hardened off, there is new soft foliage coming, but there is a good amount of mature foliage that is producing sugars (food) for the tree. This is an "energy positive" state, to use Ryan Neil's terminology. When does this happen? Usually by the summer solstice the first flush of foliage is mature enough to be energy positive. You are in Iowa, summers are a little hotter than my area, but not a great deal hotter, you can get away with repotting in July if you cut back new shoots, to just keep some mature foliage on ends of all the branches, but eliminate the soft new growth that has the highest water demand. Set the tree in bright shade after repotting. The "Repot after Flowering" done for Satsuki also meets this same window of time. Satsuki flower in May and June, so this window of opportunity is one exploited regularly for most azaleas.

Third window of opportunity, the beginning of which overlaps the 2nd window, so maybe not really distinct. Most deciduous trees and shrubs have a flush of new root growth in late summer, usually occurring when the night temperatures begin to drop with the shortening day length. In Illinois, or Iowa, in August, beginning when 4 out of 7 nights a week drop below 65 F at night, below 18 C, the flush of new root growth occurs. If you repot at the beginning of this time period, the new roots will rapidly colonize the new potting media. For my climate this period usually begins the 3rd week of August. If you finish repotting before the end of September, there will usually be enough time for the new roots to mature and harden off before winter comes. If you are late, it is best to plan winter protection for these late summer repotted trees. If you finish repotting before the autumnal equinox (Sept 21 give or take a day), usually you do not have to worry about winter hardiness. Summer and late summer repotting do require being cognizant of the amount of root work you do, and possibly partially defoliating or pruning back to "balance" water demand by foliage to the size of the remaining root system. If leaves are wilting a day or two after repotting, try removing (partially defoliate) leaves a few at a time, until the remaining leaves perk back up.
 

Leo in N E Illinois

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I've been wanting to get some Azaleas going on the roster. Picked up these 2 from Lowes today and stumbled onto this thread.

Should I repot right away? I dont have any kanuma which I read is a bonus, also my communities water is really hard.

You stated you have hard water, this makes growing azalea tricky. All azalea are calcifuges. They dislike excess calcium in their soils and their water. There are a couple approaches. One is to collect rain water, and only water your tree with rain water. Rain collection can be as simple as what I do. I set out 5 pails, 3 gallon size each, scattered around the yard. After it rains, I dump them all into a covered 55 gallon plastic barrel. The cover prevents the water from evaporating during the late summer dry spells. I leave the lid off the barrel too, during rain storms, if I think of it. If I start collecting rain in April, by the end of June normally I have a full 55 gallon barrel of water to use for my azalea and blueberries during the dry spells we get in July and August. I'm usually able to water my azaleas with rain water 4 out of 5 times all summer long. The occasional watering with your municipal water will not be fatal, just collect enough rain water that most of the time you can use rain water.

If your irrigation water, or municipal water is low in dissolved solids, you can grow your azalea in anything, from Turface, through Akadama and Kanuma. But if you have hard water, you need to design your potting media to compensate. You can design your potting medium to help compensate for the high calcium in your municipal water. Kanuma goes a long way toward compensating for medium hardness, medium calcium content of irrigation water. But if you water is more than 300 ppm total dissolved solids or 250 mg/liter as calcium carbonate total alkalinity, the water will "overpower" the cation exchange capacity of Kanuma. I recommend you use a trick from the landscape nurseries & blueberry growers. Kanuma is not acidic enough for raising high bush blueberries but the composted douglas fir bark, or composted bark in general (not necessary to be douglas fir bark) will release enough organic acids and have a high enough EC to compensate for excess calcium. The standard blueberry mix is equal parts composted bark and Canadian peat moss with about 5% by volume hardwood sawdust added to feed the mycorrhiza species unique to ericaceous plants. To this mix add 1 to 2 tablespoons per gallon of elemental sulfur. Elemental sulfur can be found with a visit to an old fashioned Farm Feed & Seed Store. Or any full line nursery that caters to organic vegetable growers. The elemental sulfur comes in 2 grades, that differ only in particle size. The Sulfur for soil amendment is a slightly coarse grind, the elemental Sulfur for use as a fungicide spray is a much finer grind, smaller particle. Both work identically, in that they dissolve slowly, and provide a slow steady amount of sulfurous and sulfonic acids. Note, rain water won't naturally form Sulfuric acid,, the natural dissolution product is at a lower oxidation state, sulfurous acid, which is weaker, less aggressive, and safe for plant life. Mycorrhiza and soil bacteria play a role in the dissolution of sulfur, all in all it is a natural process. The sulfur freed up reacts with Calcium to make Calcium sulfate, which is mostly insoluble, which locks it up as unavailable to bother the azalea. Apply the sulfur once a year for the soil amendment form. The fungicide form is a finer particle, it dissolves more quickly because of the fine particle. Apply half as much every 6 months.

For grow out containers, nursery pots, and other large and deeper than 2 inch deep containers this mix is excellent. It will compensate for your hard water. One key problem. If you let this mix get "bone dry", the peat moss will contract. When you re-wet the mix, the peat moss will not expand. Repeat the dry out process a few times and you will have a compact brick of bark & peat that will have very little air penetration . This is the chronic problem with using peat moss in any potting mix. The trick is to never let the mix get dry past the lightly moist phase. If you can do that, no problems. For use in bonsai pots, to this mix I add pumice or perlite, about 50:50. Seems to work. Once addition, see the threads by @cmeg1 and humic and fulvic acid supplements. I found that if I supplement with a solution of seaweed, fulvic acids & humic acids in my water, the peat moss seems to aggregate, and become clumpy, rather than stay a fine powder. When repotting blueberries that got this treatment, the peat-bark mix had better air penetration after 1 year than it did when first made up. This is probably due to the beneficial microbes and mycorrhiza causing the peat to clump up. Just a trick I learned.

FOr what it is worth. If you do mail order in Kanuma, or make the drive to DanSu Bonsai, or Hidden Gardens and pick up Kanuma, adding a top dressing of elemental sulfur will help keep the Kanuma acidic enough even with water over 300 ppm total dissolved solids. It may not be a perfect system, but it avoids having to deal with a peat moss based mix.

Summary, if you can collect enough rain water to mostly irrigate with rain all year, you can grow your azalea in any conventional bonsai potting mix for deciduous trees. If you have to use municipal water for part or most of the year, a designed mix, either Kanuma & sulfur supplement, or Bark-Peat mix with sulfur supplement, will work.

Hope this helps.
 

Leo in N E Illinois

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One other thought on deciduous azalea. If you use an inorganic, chemical fertilizer, use one recommended for acid loving plants. Miracle Grow's Mira-Acid is an acceptable product. The acid fertilizer, a little in your municipal high calcium water will help bind up that excess calcium.
 

Leo in N E Illinois

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Not sure if this is qualified as a deciduous azalea but I have rhododendron dauricum. It looses most of its leaves in winter. Also very winter hardy. growing at places where it gets -30celcius easily, although they are normally covered by snow by that time.
the leaves that don’t fall off get a really dark colour, somewhere between dark red and black.
very good species for bonsai, leaves and flowers are quit small. not a fast grower so internodes are also small.

View attachment 290750

This is a beautiful Rhododendron species. I love it. You have done a wonderful job with developing it as a bonsai. The lower portion of your cascade looks about as strong as your upper portion, which means you have been diligent with controlling or balancing growth and vigor. Often cascades, the pendant branch is noticeably weaker than the upper branches. Nicely done.

R. dauricum, does not fit the habit of the North American deciduous azaleas. For one, the internode distances are fairly uniform throughout the whole plant. That is a blessing that makes bonsai with this species easier. But I love this species, and even though it is not a deciduous type, I welcome future updates on this tree here. As it is a Rhododendron that is not often seen in the USA being used as bonsai. Clearly it should be used more often. Nicely done.
 

Iowa newbie

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FOr what it is worth. If you do mail order in Kanuma, or make the drive to DanSu Bonsai, or Hidden Gardens and pick up Kanuma, adding a top dressing of elemental sulfur will help keep the Kanuma acidic enough even with water over 300 ppm total dissolved solids. It may not be a perfect system, but it avoids having to deal with a peat moss based mix.
Leo, as always this is a treasure trove of information thank you.

A trip to DaSu or Hidden Gardens is long overdue, but once things settle down it will be in the works.

The rain water plan would be my preferred method unfortunately I'm not sure I can convince the wife to let me have a 55 gallon barrel in the backyard, our backyard faces an empty large lot and a limited access road for a middle and elementary school. Option B it is for the time being
 

Lazylightningny

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I posted this https://www.bonsainut.com/threads/deciduous-azaleas.25652/post-726160 in a similar thread recently. It's an Exbury azalea that I cut way back. It responded well, and now this year I can start ramification. I don't know if the leaves will reduce yet, I've been fertilizing heavily.
 

Djtommy

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This is a beautiful Rhododendron species. I love it. You have done a wonderful job with developing it as a bonsai. The lower portion of your cascade looks about as strong as your upper portion, which means you have been diligent with controlling or balancing growth and vigor. Often cascades, the pendant branch is noticeably weaker than the upper branches. Nicely done.

R. dauricum, does not fit the habit of the North American deciduous azaleas. For one, the internode distances are fairly uniform throughout the whole plant. That is a blessing that makes bonsai with this species easier. But I love this species, and even though it is not a deciduous type, I welcome future updates on this tree here. As it is a Rhododendron that is not often seen in the USA being used as bonsai. Clearly it should be used more often. Nicely done.
Thank you,as with many species, it’s true the top is a lot more vigorous then the lower part and needs to be cut back a lot more then the bottom, the bottom gets only cut back for shape, whereas the top needs to be prunned soon after leaves come out. I also remove all bigger leaves at the top after they hardened and for the bottom I leave most of them unless they are blocking light of some part I think needs it.
 

Underdog

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unfortunately I'm not sure I can convince the wife to let me have a 55 gallon barrel in the backyard,
How about a pond? I have my rain gutters flowing into mine. Even a small plastic pond will hold enough water.
I used this for a couple years.
 

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Iowa newbie

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How about a pond? I have my rain gutters flowing into mine. Even a small plastic pond will hold enough water.
I used this for a couple years.
Not an option, its a holy miracle she hasn't drawn and quartered me given the number of acquisitions I've made in the last 12 months, not to mention the soil and supplies.
 

KiwiPlantGuy

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Originally I thought a bit of frost got the leaf edges. The leaves are turning orange. It has orange flowers but this is confusing to me.View attachment 291555View attachment 291555
Hi,
So strictly I am not allowed to post here because I don’t own a deciduous azalea in a pot.
So here is my observations from a few years in the Horticultural industry. As @Leo in N E Illinois has stated early on in this thread, and can agree, deciduous azaleas flower on the END of this season’s growth. What I see from your photos is that you cut off the end of last year’s growth, so no flowers. This makes creating deciduous flowering bonsai quite difficult.
As I like a challenge I will hope to buy a deciduous azalea in the next few months.

So I am definitely not trying to pick on you @Underdog, so here is my rational for saying this and posting here.
1. My thinking is you would grow these much like a deciduous tree. Use a fertiliser heavier on Phosphorous and Potassium and very little Nitrogen food til end of new growth. This will give you shorter internodes PLUS give the plant P and K for flowering.
2. After you have a structure of your bonsai say 5 years plus without flowering like keeping compact, then try #1, and see if you get flowers and a tight bonsai tree.

Whew, sorry that was long winded. I wonder if Leo can verify my thinking or disagree and explain why.
Charles
 

Underdog

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I guess we shall see Kiwi. It flowered in May last year and was pruned immediately after. Those pics are on page 1 post 5. Dates in the file names.
 

Forsoothe!

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The problem with deciduous Azalea is long internodes. These make them un-bonsai-like. We all know this. Some people who want to make them bonsai-like have to overcome this the same way it is done on all other plants with long internodes: force the plant to have more primary tips than normal, so the resources used to elongate tips in spring are divided by so many primaries that they run out of energy when they are still short. Left to their own they have 3 or 4 or rarely 5 buds clustered at the base of the flower stalk arrayed equally. All of the buds have a cluster of leaves arrayed the same way and a central buds that expands the year following, ad infinitum.

DA are long season plants that normally grow through the whole cycle of elongating primaries, flower and set seed, leaf-out, ripen seed, mature some flower buds at the base of the seed pod for next year's growth, the number of which depending upon the amount of resources available. Growth in sweet soils, or in a shorter season north of their range, or dry soils, or all three, inhibits their ability to go through the whole growth cycle. They do not mature next year's buds until they have successfully matured the seeds which are the first priority of the plant and to which all of the resources will directed if there is a shortage. In order to foil this in the north, we have to remove flowers when past to save energy to be divvied-up by the secondary buds which can expand and start gathering energy for next year and maturing next year's primary bud in the center of each leaf cluster. This is not easy because the seed is deep in the center of the cluster of buds at the base of the flower. Those buds are very easily damaged removing the base of the flower and is hard to snip without breaking the foliage bud off its tender stalk. You have to hold the sticky base of the flower at an angle, -without too much angle that breaks the tightly surrounding sticky, tender foliage bud stalks, reach-in the tip of the scissors and snip deep enough to get that seed. Some can be snapped off by pulling and twisting, but you damage more than is usually acceptable. This is difficult, error prone, and time consuming. On a shrub of any size a real pain in the neck. Failure to go through this pain in the shorter season north of their range means the seed maturing proceeds at the expense of next year's flower buds and we get flowers every-other-year.

If you have a few of these in the landscape, you know that overcoming all of this in a bonsai that would look funny with long internodes, or restated, as plants that would not qualify to be called bonsai because they can not be compact enough to be anything but a potted plant and are therfore not worth the effort.

Once they are big enough to sell in landscape nurseries, they are almost beyond help because they do not respond well to hard cutting back, and for the most part will not back-bud if not cut back to foliage. So, buy the smaller plants of smaller varieties, like the Light series. Don't let them flower until they have so many primary buds that internode growth is satisfactorily short. Do not allow any long internodes to remain on the plant, even if this means removing all new stems in a given year, especially the early years. When it gets to some size where you have so many primaries expanding that you are happy with the length of the internodes, let it flower and remove all seed pods. If you remove the stigma or stamens before they are pollinated you don't have to dig that seed out. That's much easier and the flowers stay open longer and just pull straight off when past.

So this is perfectly possible for someone who is willing to outfox Mother Nature with time and energy and persistence.
 
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Leo in N E Illinois

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Hi Leo,

Do you add Cal-Mag to rain water? Thanks
No, not routinely. I've not had problems. I did have trouble using RO water, too pure, but rain water is not quite mineral free. Outdoors I try to fertilize once or twice a month. When I fertilize, I use tap water, so I use a blueberry formula, acid fertilizer, My liquid fertilizer set up requires the use of municipal water. I make up fertilizer 55 gallons at a time, and use a pump to pump it to the backyard from the basement.

Cal-Mag is not necessary at all in my area, we have enough calcium and magnesium in our tap water that one dose of tap water (municipal water) per month covers the calcium and magnesium need for the month.
 

Forsoothe!

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Working a couple lights & Satsuki in the ground, which is more forgiving than in pots (no Flames). Call it what you want. Are you throwing down a gauntlet? Hmmmm...?
 
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