Revisiting A Dead-Topped Azalea-

Several years ago a weak Satsuki ‘Kinsai’ azalea arrived in the garden with a dead crown, dead branches, and shari down two sides—characteristics that suggested a promising juniper rather than an azalea.

After a period of puzzling, we thought a prostrate styling might be a new future for it, and that, with luck, we might even manage to create such a thing. The idea was to use the branches to be the multiple trunks of a new raft style, by laying the trunk down. It was, however, a rather tall tree, so to eventually get this prostrate tree into a reasonable-sized bonsai pot the lower trunk of the original tree and its root mass would need removal. For the time being it was laid down in a long flat to accommodate the long trunk. We had roots to grow first.

Since 2017 tree has grown well, and most importantly, has grown roots were we needed them, along the flanks of the laid down trunk. Over a period of two years we cut a successively deeper wedge into the lower trunk, in preparation to severing it. As the tree recovered its vigor and the shoots grew stronger, more roots initiated from the laid down trunk, and earlier this year the lower half of the trunk was finally completely severed not far from the first branch (now a trunk).

These photos show were we started with the tree, and were it is now. Hope you enjoy the photo essay-

This Satsuki ‘Kinsai’ azalea had been weak for years, and came into the garden with a dead top and two shari lines with dead branches all along them. Question was: What can we do with this tree? With such large dead areas, a normal azalea styling seemed beyond reach. In March 2017 the tree had regained its vigor and we attempted a restyling.

An azalea that had seen better days—to the left of the chalk line, a wide swath of dead tissue. A shari, to be precise.

The solution we came up with was to cut the tree straight down the deadwood area…

…and lay the more promising half in a flat. This trunk half had several branches that now rose as trunks. The original root mass is to the right, which we buried in pumice and covered with sphagnum moss—just to keep it going for a while.

Tucking sphagnum along the roughed-up cambium line where we hoped roots would initiate.

And this is the azalea three years later, in November 2020, roughly styled to be a multiple trunked, raft style. The entire original root mass has at this point been severed (though it’s still in the flat), with the new roots supporting the new style—from a taller, tree-like design to a smaller, spreading, shrubby design. It did prove a rather malleable species due to its ability to root anywhere along the trunk.

For more images, please see the first post about this tree, detailing our adventures with a reciprocating saw: How do We Deal with a Dead Topped Azalea?

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