Are Satsuki & Kurume Azaleas really sensitive, difficult to keep healthy and prone to death? Mine keep dying

In summer 2018, I bought 9 Hino Crimson Kurume azalea starters/saplings. 6 died and 3 lived the following spring. I only re-potted them and very very lightly pruned them (idk why these died).

I also bought 3 diff cultivar Satsuki, also young/small, maybe about 5+ years old in 1gal pots, in Fall 2019.

This summer and late-spring:

  • 1 satsuki had its’ side-branches/twigs eaten by rats in my backyard (the entire trunk was left alone though… so it seemed like it had a good chance of regaining health).
    1 hino crimson kurume got trunk-chopped to the ground (1-1.5" height of trunk above the ground left) by rabbits in front-yard (a drastic low trunk chop, so I am assuming unlikely to regain).
    1 satsuki browned & dropped all its’ leaves after I simply pruned it (I didn’t touch trunk at all and many branches were left… so idk why it dropped leaves and dying).

… all 3 of those have not sprouted back up and I am thinking they are dying or dead now. It’s already been 11-12 weeks since the aforesaid damage, and no signs of new buds/growth yet… as compared to a few of my Acer Ps that also got their branches nibbled off too at the same time; but have already flushed out with many new shoots, branches and foliage.

So, I bought 9 kurume in the beginning, and 3 satsuki recently (bought 12 total over the time).
Now, I only have 3 left (2 kurume and 1 satsuki)… which are doing good so far I guess.

I remember a Ryan Neil video lecture on YT saying (discussing general bonsai health and disease, iirc) saying, “Anyone here have satsuki? crowd laughs Yeah, once they get even a little sick, it’s all Downhill from there! Satsuki, definitely not a good investment.”

Is this true? That Satsuki and Kurume azaleas are very sensitive, prone to dying, difficult to keep healthy, etc.?

For me, I am beginning to see that. I’ve had problems with them, multiple times/years now. And, it’s actually the ONLY plant/species I have ever seen die under my care (knock on wood). So, I am thinking of totally just giving up on them and never buying them again. (though, I still have cuttings in the works, so I’ll keep those of course).

Sometimes, I also think it may just be my climate - SoCal, Orange County, zone 10b. So, it may be too dry and hot here for them to thrive. (but, then again, Nuccio’s Nursery is in SoCal as well and grows thousands of them… though, I bet under shade cloth, overhead mist/sprinkler and also decades of professional experience)

I keep them in the same soil I keep my Acer Ps and most of my other potted trees (pumice, pine bark soil, etc.); and all my other trees are fine. Also same watering as my other trees - water when the top soil gets slightly dry. I keep them under bright shade (north facing wall or under taller trees) and they get morning sun and sometimes a little sunset light. So, I am sure the problem is not my soil, sun location/placement nor watering (since all my other plants are fine). I also have never seen any pests/insects nor disease issues/discoloring on the foliage.

I am thinking it’s either, really just the species itself (their super sensitivity or difficulty to keep healthy), or my dry SoCal climate.

What do you think it is?

…I am also thinking they just don’t like my local city water.

SoCal city water is known to be hard water, slightly on the alkaline side, salts/mineral build ups, etc.

Maybe they cannot tolerate the local city water as well as all my other plants.

I am not willing to treat my water with acidifiers to rectify the water. Because, once I stop/forget, they will just die again anyways. Would rather keep plants that can tolerate the city water.
Edit: I just read the recent ‘acidifying-water’ thread… now I am interested in treating my water with a vinegar-solution method (because it is easy to do and readily available). So, I will probably try this.

I do fertilize them in the spring (and sometimes fall) with a 9-9-9 acid fertilizer (11% iron and 10.5% sulfer).

But, I did not use that fert in 2018 (when 6 of them died)… so that takes out any possibility the fertilizer killed them.

If it was too hard to grow satsuki, we wouldn’t have any beautiful satsuki to start with! The main thing is getting the care right.

Here are the basics:

I’m guessing that the water, the soil, and/or the weather weren’t ideal for your azaleas. The closer you can get to having good water, low wind, no salt air, high humidity, and good soil (kanuma), the easier it will be to keep the trees healthy.

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Thanks, I’ll take a look at that article.

But yeah… lots of things are working against me for them here in OC SoCal - dry weather, alkaline city water with mineral deposits/buildups, etc.

I get it - they can be challenging when the conditions aren’t right. The main thing that people get wrong is the watering. Either too much or two little can lead to problems.

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During late spring, summer, early fall, I water when the surface gets slightly dried out (it’s still good and moist deep inside the pot though).

I also use deep nursery pots only, so they have a large buffer against drying out.

In late fall, winter, early spring, I use a moisture meter probe to make sure they aren’t too wet.

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