Satsuki Azalea, Wakaebisu

Satsuki Azalea “Wakaebisu” is one of my favorites. The English translation of Wakaebisu is said to be “young goddess” and I think the name is fitting, for the flowers are beautiful, like a goddess, and also hose in a hose (think one flower inside another) with a lovely shade of pinkish orange with a light -yellow center.

I like to call them a tank, because as far as satsukis go, waka is very tough. It grows like a weed in our hot summers, can take a hard pruning on the chin, not fussy about root work, and cuttings root easily. Add those pretty pink flowers and what’s not to love, right?

I got this particular one early on in my bonsai quest and my azalea fever. It would be a lot further along if I would have had more knowledge and the fact that it is still alive today is more a testament to how tough it is than my skills at horticulture. I purchased it in a one-gallon pot at Lowes or Home Depot, I don’t remember which, around 2008, I think. Back when most of the plants that those two box stores only had one cutting struck in a pot, unlike today, where there are three or four in each one. I wish I had bought more, but this one had (to me) the most interesting trunk.
In the early days, I was not very good about documenting my progress with photos. I don’t have a photo of it as it looked when I purchased it or of how it came to be in the cut-down nursery pot. The earliest pictures that I have of it are from 2011:

2011

2011

Looking at it, there really wasn’t much to it then, kinda gangly and sparse.  Not much changed the following year either, take a look at 2012:

2012

2012

2012

2013 came around and I finally got a decent showing of flowers in May:
After looking around on the ‘net, talking to some fellow club members, and reading some books at the library, I came up with a post bloom plan.  I removed all of the flowers as they were fading:
The hacked away at it.  I also appears that I may have removed a lower branch or two.  I am sure that I had a plan at the time, but it kinda looks like I was blind folded when I did it.  Gathering the pictures for this progression and putting it together had me scratching my head a lot of the time, “What the heck were ya thinkin?”
It appears to have survived the abuse that I heaped upon it and actually grew quite well, right back into a similar shape as before.  So scratch the thought that I had above, there actually must not have been a plan.  October 2013:
May of 2014 brought more flowers with it and apparently a new pot, I did not take any pictures of the repot, but a least it isn’t in the cut-down nursery container anymore. The flowers were a  pretty good show, I finally learned that after late June, mid-July---NO MORE PRUNING.  You will be pruning next year’s flowers off.
After flowering, a cutback was in order.  Again, blind folded, machete in hand, and possibly drinking the hard stuff, I fell upon the poor little azalea like a samurai in battle.  Looking at it now, I see that shortening it was probably good as a good portion of the upper trunk was straight and had no taper, I don’t know why I did not shorten the heavy branches.
It recovered, again, form that horror and by the end of the year, October to be precise, it actually looked decent, at least from one angle:
2015 did not bring many flowers, remember the all caps pruning advice above, I should have listened to myself.  It did, however bring a new pot and a much-needed repotting.  I even exercised a little restraint on the cut back and it did turn out a little better.  The pot is by a local potter and fellow club member, Barry Wyatt.

Before the Work

After Trimming

A Look Under the Hood

Close-Up

Root Trim

Close-Up

Nebari

Nebari, Lightened Up

New Home

New Home

May of 2016, I was starting to like the shape it was taking and got some nice flowers, in case you are wondering, that is a gumpo white over its right shoulder photo-bombing the shoot:
After flowering, it got the usual hard cut back to set it up for next year.  This year, I finally got brave and did something about that funky bottom branch.  It looks unnatural, was way too thick, and was too low on the trunk.  I cut it off; I have since learned that it is good to make it a two-step process for removing that large of a branch on an azalea, but it worked out.

Before

Before

Before

Before

After

After

After

Branch To Be Removed

Branch Removed

Two months later it filled in nicely and I was somewhat happy with the silhouette.
In October of the same year I gave it a light trim, for shape only – remember those flowers!
The wound from the branch removal is healing up nicely.
In 2017, I was finally happy with the shape, not completely satisfied, but happy with how it looked with flowers.  
In late May, the hard cutback to maintain and shape it further.

Before the Cut-Back

Flowers Removed

After Cut-Back

The Winter of 2017/ 2018 was particularly brutal for the Heart of Dixie, we got snow – TWICE!  I know for some that is no big deal, but for South Alabama, it is, we can’t drive in it.  I all of my 52 years, I think it has only snowed 4 or 5 times, but never twice in the same year, but I digress.  In spite of the bitter cold, my trees made it, and actually seemed to like it.  Here is a picture of the Waka playing in the snow.
In February of 2018, I repotted again, this time into a really nice Lynn August pot.  If you are not familiar with her work, you should check it out, I have not seen any pots with her level of attention to detail and finish, they are simply beautiful.

Before

A Look Under The Hood

Roots Trimmed

New Home

May, have you noticed that this one reliably blooms in May, brought flowers again.

Ready for Flower Removal

The Flowers

Flowers Removed

A Little Trim

A Little Wire

Squirrel Damage on Trunk

Squirrel Damage Sealed

Ready For Summer

More To Come, Check Back Soon...
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