How to care for satsuki azalea bonsai

jcavhs

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I recently received a satsuki azalea bonsai as a gift (it was ordered from FTD if that provides any helpful context). I have no idea how to take care of one so I'm looking for advice.
I'm in zone 4B so I know it should be outside but I don't think that would be good right now. I live in a condo with only west facing windows. I don't have a basement but I do have a garage. Right now I have it next to a window. The drip tray has water in it since I read that is good when it is indoors.

Biggest questions are:

1. General care tips especially given my location and living situation
2. Fertilizer suggestions

This was a sympathy gift as I lost a family member over the holidays so I'd really like to not kill it.
 

Carol 83

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This was a sympathy gift as I lost a family member over the holidays so I'd really like to not kill it.
So sorry for your loss. There are lots off experienced Satsuki growers here, I'm sure someone will be around soon to help you out.
 

JudyB

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Hi and welcome to the forum! Do you know what the variety the plant is? If you could take photo of it including the soil that will help us help you. For now inside is your best option as it came from a florist and will not be ready for cold temps. Only water when it appears to be drying out, putting a wooden skewer in the soil and leaving it in, pull it out and check it every day will help you determine when it’s drying. Next year you’ll be able to place it in your garage or some other structure for winter that stays between 32 and 40 will give it the dormant period that all non tropicals need, but for now just worry about getting it thru this winter...
 

Shibui

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Follow watering advice by @JudyB
Location: I assume it is an evergreen azalea? It needs good light all year round so next to a window is the best option. Many indoor plant growers supplement natural light with LED plant lights.
Fertilizer is only needed when the tree is active so it probably does not need any over winter. Best option for azalea is an azalea fertilizer from your garden center. Acidifying fert such as Miracid? is often used because Azalea needs acid soil and some municipal water supplies are alkaline.
 

Deep Sea Diver

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I concur with @JudyB and @Shibui for the immediate care. Likely it’s a warm weather satsuki. Keep it in the garage for the winter.

In the end it’s going to be important to figure out what general type of satsuki you actually have. Could you please post a couple of photos? One focused on the leaves with a ruler nearby. Also flowers if there are any left.

There are plenty of LED lights on the market. However I think this would be a good, cheap light to get you started. I have a number of them I use to winter over weather sensitive satsuki and seedlings, 12-1 hrs away. The instructions will give you distance ranges. Be sure to use vegetative distance between light and leaves.

cheers
DSD sends
 

jcavhs

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Hi and welcome to the forum! Do you know what the variety the plant is? If you could take photo of it including the soil that will help us help you. For now inside is your best option as it came from a florist and will not be ready for cold temps. Only water when it appears to be drying out, putting a wooden skewer in the soil and leaving it in, pull it out and check it every day will help you determine when it’s drying. Next year you’ll be able to place it in your garage or some other structure for winter that stays between 32 and 40 will give it the dormant period that all non tropicals need, but for now just worry about getting it thru this winter...
The tag that it came with says Outdoor Satsuki Azalea Rhododendron Indicum https://www.ftd.com/product/blooming-azalea-bonsai-inches-prd-p119

Here are some photos. I appreciate the help.

IMG_20210108_214334029.jpgIMG_20210108_214317480.jpgIMG_20210108_214353438.jpg
 

Deep Sea Diver

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Nice. It looks like it’s in good shape and fertilized to the max, witness those really long shoots this time of the year. Normally those bloom in May-June but me.

Definitely not a cold weather guy imho. Looks almost like those ever present “no name” Satsuki Brussels was pushing onto the market last year, yet the flower petals seem to overlap a lot more than the ones I have seen.

I’d keep it inside until the nights are above 45ish. Yet you could put it outside during the day in late March during those days in the 50’s as long as you get it back in before things get cold. I’d go for part shade to start with for a couple weeks.

Maybe @Leo in N E Illinois or @Harunobu could weigh in on this one, but it looks like your garage is gonna be a good place for it during the cold months!

Cheers
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Harunobu

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Sorry to hear about your loss.

Yes, these are normally outdoor plants. But this one up to zone 7 or so. You are way way beyond that, of course.
It looks in very good shape. I suspect it was growing indoors there as well. This is not how an azalea normally looks during winter. It looks like it is still growing. When dormant in preparation for winter, every shoot ends in a flower bud, and most leaves not near the flower bud drop.

So while garage temperatures and light levels may be good for a dormant azalea, not sure if that is the best place for this one right now. I don't know how tricky it is to grow an azalea indoors in your living room. Plants need light and humidity, and both of those it lacks inside. So for growing this one indoors long term, I would say get a grow tent with a grow light. But that is overkill for 1 plant that you ideally want to keep in sight in your condo somewhere.

Usually, I only grow seedlings and cuttings inside during winter. This winter, because of the warm autumn, one of my potted small satsuki started to wake up. So I also put it inside. It is still in cutting territory. I have had trays with seedlings inside near a window with no additional systems for maintaining higher humidity. So no domes/lids or tents. Just normal watering of well draining peat-based soil. But those were seedlings. Putting a tray with water underneath a plant doesn't really increase the humidity it experiences.

So you need to stay on top of your watering and make sure the soil drains really well. Only that way you can water often without getting things wet. Azaleas like their rainy moist climates. And inside, it can be very dry. Especially during winter when the heating is on. Check the CO3 ion content of your tap water.

Be gentle with fertilizer. You might not want to use the usual organic fertilizer inside, because of pests. You could water very irregularity with 1/5th strength liquid fertilizer for plants. And only if you see it is growing well. If you want a plant to get more food, give it more light. Because there is where it gets it's energy from. Fertilizer is really a tertiary concern.
 

Harunobu

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Actually, what is that silk on that last picture? Also some curled leaves. Looks like it could be an insect pest.
 

Leo in N E Illinois

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@jcavhs - Very nice healthy looking azalea. You are in zone 4b, I'm familiar with Minnesota winters, my suggestion would be to keep this azalea in your condo for the winter. Your garage is likely too cold. For winter 2020-2021, keep this on your west windowsill inside the condo. The cool air coming off the glass of the window will help give your azalea its "winter chill". By keeping your tree close to the glass for the winter, you can meet its need for a winter dormancy. Satsuki, especially the ones used for the florist industry, tend to need less chill in winter to set flower buds.

To prepare for winter 2021-2022, put a thermometer in a box and set it on the floor of your garage, check it during your coldest nights. This will give you an idea for whether or not you could safely put the azalea in the garage winter of 2021-2022. Check in the mornings, before you head out to work. Record the coldest. If the coldest you get is around 20 F or warmer, you can use your garage in the future. If when it is zero outside the temps in the garage get below 15 F, it will definitely be bad for your azalea. The other issue with garages is that some get too warm in winter. If you see frequent temperatures over 45 F, this is too warm to store a tree without light. When it is warmer than 40 F, the azalea will need light. The thermometer could also reveal that the garage could be too warm.


About watering. If you know this, forgive my repeating it. Always take your tree to a sink to do your watering. Flood the pot with water, let drain for 5 or 10 minutes, then flood the pot a second time. Let drain, then return to the windowsill. This is far better than dribbling a little water into the pot with a watering can. Bonsai potting media tends to be coarse, and does not wick water evenly throughout the pot, it is best to water at a sink by flooding the pot with water. This will prevent "dry pockets" and will also better aerate the soil media, because the larger amount of water moving through the mix and dripping out the bottom, pulling oxygen in as the water moves.

I recommend to not leave water in the drip tray, as the amount of humidity the tray adds is negligible, and water in the tray can lead to root rot issues. The drip tray's purpose really is to protect the woodwork of the windowsill from water damage.

Hope these tips help.

The comment others have made about Brussel's, is that Brussel's is a very large bonsai nursery, that sometimes wholesales to FTD various bonsai. Your tree looks similar to the azalea they sell to FTD. Of course one can not be certain where FTD sourced you tree, FTD does not publicize their sources. In terms of how hardy or not your azalea is, Brussel's is in Olive Branch Mississippi, about an hour drive south of Memphis, where winters are mild, and these are forced in heated greenhouses. Reading the FTD website I would assume this is a Rhododendron indicum hybrid that is probably only hardy to USDA zone 7a. It is a nice pink Satsuki, and will develop nicely as a bonsai.
 

JudyB

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in the photos the plant looks like it is in good shape. The soil looks ok too. I’m sticking with my reccomendation of keeping this one indoors this winter, looks like it has fairly new growth that would die back in cold temps. Just watch out for pests and don’t overwater it. Maybe take a couple photos in better light they are so dark it is hard to see a lot.
 
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Deep Sea Diver

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Or just maybe it’s a few strands of cottony packing material florists sometimes use, but now I see that leaf...
cheers
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