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Azalea Basics

From Jim Ransohoff’s Presentation at the June 2001 Meeting

Satsuki Azalea Shohin
Satsuki Azalea Shohin

Jim began by recommending we read an article by Gondo that appears the May/June 2001 issue of Bonsai magazine from Bonsai Clubs International. (See our library.)

Jim showed two beautiful azalea plants seemingly covered with flowers. However, when he turned them around he showed that the pads on the back didn’t have any blooms. The reason — he forgot to turn them and the back branches didn’t get enough sunshine.

Jim then talked about three different techniques for pruning: Motoba DomeMesuki and Higari – and when and how to use them.

February/March/early April – Use the “Motoba Dome” or tip leaf bud trimming technique. In this procedure you cut off all the leaves, leaving only 1/8 inch at the tip, just at the base of the leaf cluster. The goal is to force budding back.

May or June – Watch for wires cutting in. You may also have too much growth so you should remove the wires and prune back using the Mesuki technique.

Motoba Dome

You can do this every year if you wish and don’t want flowers, but the plant must be healthy and only do if needed for shaping.

Generally there will be 5 leaves/branchlets that will come out after pruning. Cut off the largest one first. Then cut off the two weakest — leaving two. They don’t all have to be perfectly flat; after all, you want some variation.

Jim showed a plant he had done this procedure on the first of March this year. Now it’s covered with great looking green leaves. After pruning it’s important to keep the plant in partial sun for a month.


This is a technique for pruning for shape. When there are more than 2 branches, cut back to two. When there are three leaves in a cluster, cut back to two.


This is a technique used to force back budding. Basically, you cut every leaf in half. You can do this anytime.


When wiring, you want the tips to point up. So make sure that the tip of the wire points up. In June turn the tips down to achieve a layered effect. You should also remove/change any wires that are cutting in.


Repot your Azaleas in late February or early March, before it blooms. It’s important to repot smallest leaf varieties first — they are most able to handle unexpected cold weather.

Remove all old soil and cut off all fine black roots — they are dead. Live roots are white. Don’t use water from a hose to wash away old soil because you’ll damage the fine roots. Instead, use chopsticks. Metal hooks are too rough on the fine roots.

Also, when putting new soil in the pot most of us insert a chopstick and then wiggle it to settle the soil. Gondo says this is wrong — wiggling the chopstick will break the fine roots. Instead, insert the chopstick vertically and then press down on the soil surface. Repeat every couple of inches. This can take a long time. Jim reported that in Japan when working under a Master this procedure can take several hours or even a whole day!


Gondo uses 5-5-5 with micronutrients. Do not feed during hot weather (above 85 degrees as you risk burn). Also, you shouldn’t fertilize when it gets cooler than 45 degrees or after October 15. Jim uses a cotton seed-bone meal mix about August 20th and doesn’t feed for the winter.

TIP: Jim shared his method for keeping the birds and squirrels from stealing the balls of cotton seed-bone meal fertilizer he prefers to use. He now just sprinkles the mixture on top of the soil. He mentioned that over-fertilizing will cause the pink (recessive color) to become more dominant, so be careful.

Blooms take a lot of strength, so if the plant isn’t really strong, it is safer to pinch the blooms off and let the plant recover.

If you cut back in the fall you need to leave 2 inches of branch and apply cut paste. Then, in the spring you’ll cut it again, this time all the way off. If you cut branches during the spring you can cut it back as far as you want.

If you cut back major branches in the fall leave 1-2-inch stub and apply cut paste. Then, in the spring you’ll cut it again, this time all the way off. However, it is best not to cut large branches in Autumn unless necessary. Instead, cut branches during the spring when you can cut it back as far as you want. No matter when you prune, do not cut a major branch in the water line — that is, one that is directly over another branch you have cut.

Satsuki Azalea Shohin
Satsuki Azalea Shohin

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