Developing a Clump Style Azalea Bonsai

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March 2015

A new project for this year – a ‘clump’ style bonsai using an azalea lifted from my flowerbed two years ago. It is actually half of a much larger shrub that had been growing in the bed for a long time but hadn’t really flourished.  It had the appearance of having had a hard life and so I chopped the rootball in half and planted each into a tub with free draining soil to recover for a while.  Fast forward two years to now and I’ve decided it’s time to do something with it.  The other half I returned to the flowerbed last year to fill a space.  A multi-trunk bonsai would be less common than single trunk specimens but to me this is an appealing part of the challenge of creating something out of nothing.  Just root pruning and repotting at this stage.

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Step 1: inspect the root mass – lots of growth. It’s enjoyed the free draining soil mix.

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Two: remove heavy roots and rake out the finer stuff.

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The other side.

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Lots of very fine, soft roots. Easy work so far.

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Three: I tried to identify some kind of nebari and to what extent the trunks were connected.

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The nebari from the other side.

It was a bit of a mess untangling surface roots and I didn’t do too much.  I had to hose out a bit of old soil to help with this.

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Four: After a gentle hosing of the surface roots. I purposefully didn’t bare root the tree. I then removed any suckers from the base that were going to be of no use.

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Five: I secured the tree with wire into a temporary container – a seed tray was perfect.

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Six: Some branch thinning and pruning of congested junctions that had three or more shoots. More air and light available for the interior now.

 

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At the end of the afternoon I ended up with something a lot more attractive than I had to start with.  I chose the above as my front mainly based on the trunks.  The thickest and tallest at the front and you can see thinner and weaker ones in the middle and at the back, giving some illusion of perspective.  I also liked the way the two trunks at the ends each have quite a bit of movement outwards.  The trunk with the greater lean (on your left) adds a more dynamic element to the whole composition and provides the direction for the tree.  I tried to bear this in mind when pruning.  The trunk at the other end (your right) will be shortened in future so it doesn’t quite lean so far to the opposite direction.  In fact the majority of the trunks will be reduced in height as they are all a bit leggy. I counted ten trunks which isn’t in keeping with the Japanese aversion to even numbers but I can already see that some of the trunks cross and confuse the eye a bit.  I’m leaving surplus trunk removal until later in the year when the tree has recovered (hopefully!) and I’ve had more time to study it.  It usually produces pink flowers but I’m not expecting much of a show after this work.

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