At this time of year a lot of azaleas and camellias have or will be finishing their flowering period. It is important that if you want to have them for bonsais, there are a few things that you must do straight after they flower.

  • Cut off all the old dead flowers and seed pods.
  • Trim back all branches by 2 or 3 leaves to keep the bonsai shape.
  • If you need to remove branches larger than a chopstick, make sure you seal the cuts, especially on azaleas. On camellias, it is not so important but while doing them all together do it to both varieties.
  • Repot if you need to change the pot but before you do this inspect the root system, especially on azaleas, as they can cause a problem as they get older. The fine fibrous roots on azaleas, especially on older trees, right under the thick ‘dome’ of the trunk will not get watered enough to keep them moist and subsequently the roots dry up and die. This is a common issue in older azaleas. NOTE: Each variety is different in their growth habit, so this is why it is important to check at repotting time. If your azalea has that ‘dome’ under the trunk, firstly cut those dead roots out then use a chopstick to get in between the main roots to leave gaps all around the root base. Then when you repot make sure the new potting mix is put in a dome shaped pile in the pot then squish the tree down gently so the mix goes right up under the trunk, and this will refresh the tree. Then follow up by adding the mix to the rest of the pot.
  • Water with a seaweed solution and then when you see new growth sprinkle Osmocote for Azaleas and Camellias on the soil surface. Azaleas especially, are not gross feeders, so don’t overdo it. Feeding can take place from spring to the end of December then stop. The same applies to camellias. After Christmas start giving both varieties liquid potassium to promote flowering in the coming seasons.

I have had this azalea for many years and each year it performs like this. It was given to me by the wife of a deceased club member and I absolutely treasure it.

  • Stop pruning both varieties by the end of January – mid February as they will have started to produce buds at the branch ends ready for the next flowering period. Most azalea varieties flower in late autumn to late winter but the Satsuki azalea flowers in October through to mid- December, so adjust your pruning, feeding and repotting of them.

This is a Satsuki azalea called Summertime given to me many years ago. It is still in training.

  • Camellias on the other hand are very easy to grow and note that both azaleas and camellias like a well-drained potting medium.
  • From September to December, it is important to spray azaleas for lace bugs that suck the chlorophyll from under the new leaves causing that ‘silvering effect’ to the leaves. Using a system spray like Sharp Shooter is the solution and it only has to be done 2 or 3 times between those months mentioned when the insects are active. (Remember to also spray under the leaves). Don’t worry if you do get this damage as it will not kill the tree and the damaged leaves will fall off the following year. Camellias are fairly pest free with no need to spray them, from my experience. If both varieties have the right potting medium and are healthy the problems don’t seem to be so prominent.
  • The fertilising regime for both varieties is the same as they are both acid-loving trees.
  • Try to pick varieties with small flowers and leaves to be more in proportion to the pot and the bonsai shape. You are in control. Remember that you can’t miniaturize flowers, so choose carefully.

A very slow growing camellia with a flower no more than the size of a five cent piece on left and one of my favourites for full sun, Yuletide, on right.

  • Wiring can be applied on both varieties, but care should be taken when wiring azaleas as they have a very thin cambium layer compared to camellias. They can be damaged very easily. Wire loosely as long as the branch will stay where you want it. Alternatively, you can guy the branches down by using strong string or the like to under the pot.

Note the guyed down branches on this beautiful azalea belonging to one of our members.

  • Camellias prefer full sun but some delicate azaleas prefer morning sun. Although there are some garden varieties of azaleas that love full sun a lot of these types grow big and have large flowers e.g. the Indica varieties.
  • Azaleas do not like to dry out during the warmer months, so it is up to your discretion to place them where they will perform for you.
  • Azaleas and camellias originated in China and Japan and can be seen growing on the slopes of the Himalayan Mountains from around five and a half thousand metres down to sea level. They all require different aspects.