Bay Area Satsuki Aikokai

Satsuki Azalea Bonsai Club

Category: Meeting Recap

Bonsai Display by Jonas Dupuich


Our Bay Area Satsuki Azalea club meeting at the Lake Merritt Garden Center in Oakland, on March 23, 2017 was especially interesting and well-attended. The guest speaker was Jonas Dupuich, who brought along a variety of trees and display stands and an extensive knowledge of the often subtle but decisive art of display. Jonas, a founding member of BASA, began his presentation by discussing the different ways azaleas are shown: as purely flower displays, as bonsai with or without some flowers, and as deciduous bare trees so that the development of the structure is paramount. He also provided an excellent handout itemizing how to prepare our trees for exhibit – many reminders that all of us can use at show time.

 The interactive presentation began with a discussion of the display stands which ranged from formal to informal, from light colored finishes to darker ones, and from tall or short to flat trays. Jonas explained the uses and placement of these and the other elements of a display, such as secondary trees, accent plants, and scrolls to create a harmonious presentation. Members of the club were called on to express opinions and preferences, and then the somewhat loose set of rules and conventions that govern the art of display were applied to the results to demonstrate how to optimize the final result.

It was of interest to note that many of the “rules” seemed to be principles that a person with an education in design, or one of great sensitivity and some experience, would probably choose to follow automatically. For example, large, strong trees were shown to look their best in the formal style of presentation: larger stands of darker finish, rectangular rather than square shapes, straighter lines, simpler design and uncomplicated appearance. Of course, the opposite was demonstrated to be true as well: more delicate trees looked best on stands of lighter colors, curved legs, oval or round or more square shapes.

 Once a tree was properly set, Jonas added accent plants and scrolls that harmonized in color, size and tone, and that accurately suggested the season and geographical area that the artist wished to depict.

 The presentation by Jonas was informative and well-paced, with handouts to read and plenty of trees and stands to demonstrate, and he also used the trees and pots and ideas that members brought in the process. This high quality of presentation and thorough approach can always be expected from him, and it was a pleasure to participate.

– Chris Ross


Approach Grafting by Darren Wong

Photo depicts nails above and below grafted branch, sealed with cut paste.

Photo depicts direction of grafted branch and location on trunk.

Photo of Darren Wong, Mike Mello and Marcia Cozens as Darren works on Marcia’s Satsuki azalea bonsai.

On February 23, 2017, at the Bay Area Satsuki Aikokai club meeting, Darren Wong gave the members a demonstration on “approach grafting” of Satsuki azalea bonsai. Approach grafting is the use of two live branches and fusing them together. Darren used a couple of Satsuki azalea bonsai that members brought to the meeting for the purpose of showing how to approach graft. Some preparation was taken in the first case, that was to lightly wire a long branch in the direction of the second branch or trunk. In this case, Darren could easily bend the longer and thinner branch across the trunk. This long, thin branch was the first-year growth and very flexible. He was going to approach graft or attach the longer branch to the trunk. The trunk being thicker than the longer branch. With approach grafting both branches or branch-trunk combination is being fed by the continued flow of water. Approach grafting provides a good and reliable method for a successful union.

The best time for approach grafting is when the bonsai is in the growing season, like February and March.

The cambium plays an important role in approach grafting like other methods of grafting. This is the union that must meet in order to obtain a successful graft.

Darren first determined where on the trunk he needed to add a new branch. He placed the long, thin branch across the trunk and found the location on the trunk to place a new branch. He proceeded to use a sharp grafting knife to make a ¼ inch long “v” shaped cut in the trunk. The “v” is cut length-wise in the direction you want the new branch to grow. The depth of the cut was approximately ½ the thickness of the long, thin branch. The cut was not very deep. Darren pointed out the cambium as green, lying just under the outer bark. This information tells you the branch or trunk is live and capable of taking the approach graft. He used a woodworker’s carving knife to round out the “v” cut for a more natural fitting.

He then placed the long, thin branch into the cut area to ensure a good fit. Darren then used his grafting knife and fingernail to lightly scrape the bark away on the long, thin branch to expose the green cambium layer. This was done on both sides of the long, thin branch so that the cambium of both branch and trunk touched one another. This will help the grafting take faster.

Darren saw that the fit was good. He then used a small nail with rubber washer (imported from Japan) and hammered it in place to hold down the long, thin branch and placing pressure on the union. Another small nail was used to ensure an adequate amount of pressure was placed on the union of branch and trunk. The nails are positioned one above and one below the branch, hammered into the trunk (see photo).

Darren then applied cut paste, rolling the cut paste in his palms to measure about ¼ inch or more in length, and applied the cut paste to all exposed areas of the union. This step is important to seal in moisture and assist in healing the wound.

Approach grafting another member’s bonsai followed the same steps above. Darren cautioned about watering and handling the bonsai afterwards so as not to disturb the approach graft. He did some light cutting of other branches and tips, but do not cut the tip or branch used in the approach graft. The approach graft will be successful when you observe the long, thin branch grow in size. Darren usually leaves the approach graft alone for two years to ensure it takes and is healthy. At that time, you cut at the base where the grafted branch first enters the trunk leaving the new branch.



Meeting notes – September 2016

At our September meeting we were treated to perhaps a bonsai first, a father/daughter presentation with Briana and Darren Wong. The topic was summer care of Satsuki azalea bonsai and Darren brought two trees on which to demonstrate techniques.

Darren Wong at work

Darren Wong at work

Darren began by discussing how the foliage can become very dense with summer growth, requiring deep pruning to prevent difficulty with branch structure and avoid die back of the inner branches. He emphasized that we need to do sufficient leaf pruning to allow light to reach the inside of the branches, which will facilitate back-budding.

Briana illustrated the techniques Darren described on a small bonsai Bob Gould brought to the meeting. She started at the top of the foliage mass and worked to the bottom. She carefully removed large leaves by hand, pulling upwards, so as not to tear the thin bark. After what seemed like a few short minutes, Briana showed off the leaf pruned apex of Bob’s bonsai. We could see a significant difference in the pruned section. The leaves were no longer clumped together and light could clearly reach the inner branches. Darren suggested that two or three leaves should be left on the branch tips, and that the two leaves should be those that lie flat as opposed to one on top of the other, or vertical. He also suggested that this is the time of year to switch fertilizer to 5-5-5.

Azaleas are basally dominant. The lower branches are stronger and more vigorous than those higher up. This requires that the branches on the bottom be pruned and leaves pruned slightly more aggressively than those on the apex.

While Darren answered questions and offered further advice on Satsuki azalea bonsai, Briana worked on completing Bob’s bonsai. When she was finished, the number of leaves on the table and floor dramatically showed how much leaf pruning took place. Bob’s bonsai now showed more branch structure and light penetrating the inner spaces. Lucky Bob, he was left with the job of light wiring at this point.

– George Haas

Meeting notes – June 2016


Bob Gould working with Lucky Fung on his Satsuki azalea bonsai.
Bob is showing which leaves should be removed as flowering has ended.

At the June 2016 BASA (Bay Area Satsuki Aikokai) meeting club members were led by Bob Gould in post-flowering care of their satsuki azaleas. The following is some of the excellent advice Bob shared:

  • Remove spent flowers as soon as they wilt and any new shoots that develop after blooming ends.
  • After the tree finishes flowering, it is important to remove all the dead flowers at the flower’s base, to prevent the tree from forming seed pods. This will also encourage new leaves.
  • Feed the plant after flowering, through September.
  • Keep azalea bonsai outside in partial shade. The best site is one that receives morning sun and afternoon shade, giving it the right amount of light, while protecting it from overheating and sunburn.
  • To keep your satsuki azaleas healthy remove any dead flowers and leaves immediately.
  • To enhance the overall structure of the tree it is important that yearly growth be removed or trained as soon as the flowering season ends. Any secondary shoots should be pruned in midsummer.
  • Azaleas respond well to hard pruning and if pruned back to a stump after flowering will bud-back prolifically and can be shaped in just about any bonsai style.
  • Watch carefully for insects and pests and treat accordingly.
  • Water as needed, but not too much. Keep humidity high if possible.

Dennis Hawkins removing spent flowers and secondary branches on his Satsuki azalea bonsai.

–  Notes and photos provided by George Haas