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Specimen Spotlight

This page will feature a growing collection of bonsai plant material description and infomation on care and culture.
While originally written for the North Alabama micro-climate in the Tennessee Valley region 
of the southeastern United States, these articles should apply for other medium - high humidity areas in USDA
agricultural zones seven and eight
.


Azalea
Ming Aralia

Juniper

Maples
Pines

 Satsuki Azalea
Rhododendron indicum

 Satsuki azalea is a cultivar group of azaleas that are native to the mountains of Japan, and are extensively
cultivated by the Japanese, being hybridized there for at least 500 years.  Satsuki azaleas have a diverse range
of flower forms and color patterns with multiple patterns often appearing on a single plant.

Satsuki Azalea

Satsuki bloom from May to June; the name “Satsuki” in Japanese is reference to their blooming period, the fifth
month of the Asian lunar calendar. They generally have 1 to 5 inch single flowers, although some have hose-in-hose,
semi-double and fully double flowers.  Satsuki flower shapes range from rounded overlapping lobes to narrow
wide-spaced lobes, with lobe edges ranging from flat to frilled.  Flower colors vary from white to pink, yellowish pink,
red, reddish orange and purple. Color patterns include solids, and stripes, flakes, lines, sectors and margins of color
on a lighter background. The complete range of color patterns can appear on the same plant, differently each year.

Satsuki Azalea Satsuki Azalea

Satsuki Azaleas are very popular as bonsai, and many bonsai enthusiasts, and some shows, are dedicated
solely to them.  Satsuki Azaleas can take a hard pruning when needed, the flowers are amazing, and with proper
care they can grow quite fast.

In developing Satsuki azalea bonsai, follow a three year cycle:


1.    Allow to flower one year

2.    Repot the year after flowering

3.    Permit a few flowers; or, perform moto bedome (explained later)

Although allowing Satsuki azaleas to flower only once every 3 years, leave new flower buds on through the
winter every year.  Each flower bud sends a signal to the plant to keep feeding that branch and keep it alive.
Removing flower buds prematurely stops that signal.  Without the bud, the plant may well give up on that
branch and let it die, so any available energy can be redirected to branches with flower buds.  Remove flower
buds in the spring as soon as they start to show color.  Leave little or no red or dark pink at the top of an azalea
bonsai.  Remove branches at or near the top if the flowers bloom red or dark pink.

Satsuki Azalea Bonsai

In the year for flowering, remove all of the blooms which open first.  The first blooms usually are different from 
the blooms which follow later, and usually are not true to the variety of azalea.  For flowering, remove most of the
buds, and select the blooms to be kept.  Leave some spacing between blooms.  Water the soil heavily during
blooming, but try not to get water on the blooms.  Remove blooms as soon as they start to wilt - don't wait
for the flowers to drop.

Light:    Satsukis prefer partial to almost full shade. They are understory bushes or shrubs.

Hardiness:     A Satsuki is an outdoor tree.  If left outside over winter, cover with fine pine bark mulch
                     to about one inch above the pot.  During late winter or very early spring, many of the 
older leaves will yellow and fall.  Azaleas are evergreen, but no leaf lasts forever.

Watering:    Water daily throughout the growing season. Satsukis can tolerate some drought, but   
not for an extended period. Water sparingly during winter months

Feeding:    Feed once a month from March through June with a slow-acting organic fertilizer and
then once or twice with a low Nitrogen fertilizer in October or early November.
Feed more often if the soil is inorganic.  Hold off on feeding until one month after repotting.
Satsukis, like most plants, love foliar feeding.  They will love a rotating regimen of diluted beer
(1 Tbs / 40 or 50 oz spray bottle) one week,  HB-101 or super thrive the next week, an application
of Miracid the third week and finally, a spritzing with diluted Hydrogen  peroxide ( 1 Tbs / spray bottle
of water) during  the fourth week.  Foliar feeding is best in the morning when the stomata are open. 
Do not foliar feed after the temperature reaches 70 degrees.   

Satsuki Azalea Bonsai

Styling:    Keep styling minimal during the repotting year.  Wiring may be done at any time, with
the wire remaining on for up to a year. Because the bark on an azalea is very thin, 
for smaller branches it is advised to wrap the wire with a heavy paper first.(paper cut from 
temporary window blinds works very well)  . Wire primary branches first.  Give movement that 
echoes the trunk movement, i.e., curves that diminish and get tighter toward the ends of the branches.  

Secondary branches should start out paralleling the primary branch, then move outward away from it. 
Learn to use two pairs of pliers to bend wired branches.  Use one pair to provide an anchor, use a second 
pair to bend the wire and, with it, the branch.  Check for wire bite starting at 3 months.  If it is not biting,
leave it on but check often.  Prune and pinch carefully at the apex.  Azaleas are not apical, that is, they are 
more likely to sprout new growth from the bottom.  

Do major styling immediately after blooming has finished.  A new growth spurt is about to happen.
Pruning in late summer will reduce next years’ bloom as buds are set in late August.  Removal of all 
foliage on a branch will be the death of that branch, as well as a line on the trunk down to the roots. 

If you wish to encourage significant back-budding and ramification, you can perform moto bedome.
This is done by cutting all flower buds and leaves, leaving just about 1/8” to 3/16” of green on each bud and leaf. 
This can be done the year after repotting.  Azaleas develop veins or water lines wherein some roots feed 
particular branches directly.  When pushing back foliage, be sure to leave some green on the branch.  Thinning
is important as it lets light into the interior of the plant and encourages back-budding.  Always remove spent 
flowers AND the seed pods to conserve the strength of the tree.
Flowering is subjected to the three year schedule.  

Potting:    Repot every 3 years for young trees or every 3 to 5 years for trees over 10 years old.
Repotting is typically done from mid winter through early spring.    Many artists
repot azaleas after blooming but it is ill-advised in the Tennessee Valley due to fierce 
Summers that can begin in late May.   A glazed pot that is not too shallow is preferred.

When repotting, use a sharp knife or scissors to make clean, straight cuts across the bottom and sides.
Do not rake or hose out old bonsai soil.  If the azalea is a nursery plant, it may need a thorough root cleaning to
get rid of the old peat/pine bark soil mix, but otherwise don't disturb the root mass of an azalea bonsai.  

Exposed roots left hanging out of the root ball will be pressed against the side of the root ball and may well die.
New roots don't like to, and often won't grow through the other roots, even fine hair roots.  For azaleas that really
need more new soil than just around the outside of the root ball (e.g., the old soil has very different moisture
retention), use a sharp knife or scissors to cut out wedges at intervals around the root mass.  At the next repotting,
remove wedges from different sections.  Scissors used for cutting roots may be sharpened with almost a 90 angle
on the edges.  They still can be made sharp, but they'll be less prone to damage from bits of aggregate or other 
hard material in the soil.

Keep the soil moist after repotting - don't ever let it go dry.  Later, after the tree has recovered from repotting,
you can encourage root growth by watering less.  The tree will send out more roots seeking water.  Don't put newly
repotted azaleas right back in full sun.  Keep them in light shade or at most part sun for the first month after repotting.

Pests:    The most common pest for azaleas are lacebugs.  These are easily controlled with fine 
horticultural oil, watering with a heavy foliage spray, systemic pest control and thinning
foliage to maintain good airflow and maximize pest spray contact.   Spray with dormant oil in 
January or early February. 

Diseases:    Fungus presents a significant threat in the Tennessee Valley.  From March through June
or July, alternate weekly treatments with a copper fungicide and daconil.  Good 
airflow maintained by thinning foliage is critical to good control.  Spray with a mixture of 1 tablespoon of 
3% Hydrogen Peroxide in a 40 to 50 oz. Spray bottle at least every other week during the Spring.


Ming Aralia
Polyscias fruticosa

Ming Aralia is a perennial evergreen, seen in the form of a shrub or dwarf tree, native to India.
The genus is tropical, with some 80 species found in the Pacific islands and Southeast Asia.  The plant grows
fairly slowly but can reach up to 3-7 feet in height.  The family to which Ming Aralia belongs - Araliaceae, the aralia,
or ginseng, family - also includes a number of popular house plants such as English Ivy, as well as the herb Ginseng.
Polyscias stalks carry compound leaves with up to seven (or more) opposite leaflets.  In several species the leaves
are deeply lobed.  The leaves are also highly variable, sometimes on the same plant, and are frequently variegated.
The Plumata variety of Ming Aralia is a feathery form with small leaves, and is excellent for bonsai culture.

Ming Aralia

Light:   Ming Aralia will tolerate low light conditions such as a north window with a small supplementary light 
used for the daylight hours; however, it will grow more compactly under brighter light conditions.  If grown outdoors, 
exposure to direct sun should be done very gradually, and should be limited to morning sun only. 

Hardiness:   Ming Aralia thrives in warmth, preferring a temperature range between 60 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
As described, it may be grown outdoors during the warm months. 

Ming Aralia

Watering:   Indoors, watering frequency will depend on temperature and humidity levels and the moisture 
retention rate of your growing mix.  Slowly apply a fine sprinkle to the root system until the entire root mass is
completely watered, and water freely runs out of the drainage holes.  Allow the top of the growing medium to
become dry between waterings.  Do not allow the plant to remain in standing water over a long term.  Outdoors,
in warm weather, your plant will usually require daily watering.

Ming Aralia

Feeding:   Water-soluble balanced fertilizers provide adequate food for your Ming Aralia.  Follow the label
recommendations of dilution and frequency provided for house plants.  Unless new growth is pale, indicating a
deficiency, it is not general practice to fertilize during the coldest and shortest days of the year. 

Styling:   Ming Aralia has a vertical habit, but it can be styled into an attractive bonsai by selecting alternate 
branches, and wiring them laterally.  You may be able to leave the wire on for several months, or perhaps a year,
but check at three-month intervals to remove any wires that may be cutting into the branches or trunk.  You may
shorten the plant by removing the top growth and wiring a branch upward for a new apex.  If you are growing your
plant near a window, rotate it periodically to expose all areas to the outdoor light.

Ming Aralia

Potting:   Ming Aralia should be repotted during the warm growing season.  Follow the procedures for potting 
and repotting bonsai.  If you are placing your plant in bonsai soil for the first time, try to remove all the fine soil from
the root system so the growing medium will be consistent for all parts of the root system.  Plants may react to repotting
or change of location by dropping numerous leaves.  Remove all yellow and wilting foliage to allow light to reach new
replacement growth, and avoid over-watering while the plant is recovering.

Ming Aralia

Pests:   Check and/or treat new purchases and plants being transferred from outdoors to indoors.  The usual range
of pests; aphids, scale, and spider mites may attack Ming Aralia plants.  Use an insecticide listed for the particular
pest you are treating, and move the plant outdoors for treatment.  You will need to apply several treatments at
five- to ten-day intervals to completely eliminate the pests.  If you grow moss on the surface of your plantings, you may
see fungus gnats emerging from the area.  A rechargeable hand vacuum is excellent for keeping them under control.


Shimpaku Juniper

Juniperus chinensis

Shimpaku juniper is native to Japan.  Shimpaku features a softer foliage than most other junipers; even young plants
display the compressed-scale foliage of the mature specimen.  Adult foliage consists of diamond-shaped leaves
arranged in four ranks and overlapping flat on the twigs like fish scales.  The bark is brown and shreds off in thin strips.
Male and female cones of the Shimpaku are carried on separate plants.  The female cones are fleshy, violet brown and
berrylike, about a 0.5 in (1.3 cm) in diameter.  Shimpaku can easily be grown from cuttings and thus is readily
available from bonsai nurseries.

Shimkpaku

 Light:   Shimpaku prefer a range from partial shade to full sun.  Increasing the amount of shade in 
Summer yields a darker green foliage.

Hardiness:   A Shimpaku juniper is an outdoor tree.  If left outside over winter, cover with fine pine bark
mulch to about one inch above the pot.  Over the winter foliage may get a slight purplish tint.

Watering:   Water daily throughout the growing season. Shimpaku can tolerate some drought,
but not for an extended period. Water sparingly during winter months.

Use a heavy spray on the foliage once per week to dislodge spider mites.
Be careful to point the spray away from other plants.

Shimpaku

Feeding:   Feed once a month from March through June with a slow-acting organic fertilizer 
and then once or twice with a low Nitrogen fertilizer in October or early November.  Feed more often if the soil
is inorganic.  Hold off on feeding until one month after repotting.

Shimpaku, like most plants, love foliar feeding.  Mix one tablespoon of flat beer in a 40 to 50 oz spray bottle
and apply to the foliage every one or two weeks.  Apply in the morning when the stomata are open.  Do not foliar feed 
after the temperature reaches 80 degrees.

Shimkpaku

Styling:   Wiring may be done at any time, with the wire remaining on for up to a year.  Check for wire bite
starting at 3 months.  Sometimes, if applying heavy twists to branches, the wire can be left on a bit longer to
contribute to the character of the branch.

Tip pruning should be carried out monthly from late spring to early fall. Thin and pinch
new growth throughout the early growing season.

Heavy styling is best done in February through April.  If major styling is done later, be sure to use
Wilt-Proof and mist the plant several times per day.  Keep it in a mostly shaded area for a couple of weeks.

Removal of all foliage on a branch will be the death of that branch down to the roots.
Junipers develop veins or water lines wherein some roots feed particular branches directly.
When pushing back foliage be sure to leave some green on the branch.  Thinning lets light into
the interior of the plant and encourages back-budding.

Potting:   Repot every 2 or 3 years for young trees (up to 10 years) or every 3 to 5 years for older trees.
Repotting is typically done from mid winter through early spring.  Repotting in April can be done but is less desirable.
Keep styling minimal during the years when repotting.  Shimpaku like a pot that is slightly deeper than normal.
As with most conifers, an unglazed pot is usually preferred.

Shimkpaku

Pests:   Spider mites are the most common pest.  These are easily controlled with fine horticultural oil,
watering with a heavy foliage spray, systemic pest control and thinning foliage to maintain good airflow 
and maximize pest spray contact.  Spray with dormant oil in January or early February. 

Diseases:   Fungus presents a significant threat in our area.  From March through June or July,
alternate weekly treatments with a copper fungicide and daconil.  Good airflow maintained by thinning
foliage is critical to good control.  Spray with a mixture of 1 tablespoon of 3% Hydrogen Peroxide in
   40 to 50 oz. spray bottle at least every other week.


.... more information COMING SOON! ....


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