How to train/develop Azalea to be tall, single-trunk, informal-upright?

I haven’t read/seen any detailed blog-posts yet in how to achieve this. I’ve only seen 1 YT video so far, about how to create a single-trunk “whip.”
From what I’ve seen, Most western/US people seem to just keep it broom/multi-trunk style and chop it down to a stump (just to become a broom again in the future… although with taper and ramification now of course).
I like the ones from Japan much more… tall, single-trunk and informal-upright.

Because it’s basally dominant… Do I just cut all/most of the undesired lower trunks and branches off? Keeping just 1 tall trunk line, leaving the growth alone at the apex of trunk, and turn it into a single tall whip? And, continue to prune most lower branches off as it grows (since it’s basally dominant, it will continue to send shoots mostly from the base).

When should I do this drastic cut back into a single whip (after it blooms in late spring)?

I have 3 kurume (first 3 pics) and 3 satsuki (last pic)… all young sampling, all common multi-trunk small bushes, etc.

But, out of all my plants, I am very cautious of hard-cutting back the azalea… because 6 of mine died last spring/winter (n00b mistake of leaving them in the full-sun all summer, and/or also pruning them when just received in the mail and as very very young 1-2yo saplings).

I’d love to see any detailed links or blogs of training an azalea to become single-trunk and informal-upright… and any useful info too.

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Satsuki azalea bonsai are typically trained from “whips” in Japan. A whip is a single shoot started by cutting on which the side branches are removed until they reach the desired height. They are commonly greenhouse grown.

Once the roots are established they are planted in containers and at some point are planted in the ground. After many years in the ground, they are dug up and the refinement process begins:

Looking at the trees you have, you’d either have to cut off all but a single shoot and train that to get a larger trunk. At that point starting new trees from cutting might be just as fast.

I’ve held off developing azaleas from whips as it requires a greenhouse to start the cuttings, great weather/climate, and many years in the ground to get a start on the size trunks I’d be interested in. It looks like a fun process!



I think I’ll let mine grow as long, lanky and leggy as possible until desired single-trunk height/length (no length pruning… opposite of common bonsai pruning I guess).
…and then air-layer those future long/lanky/leggy shoots (as I’ve never had luck with azalea and J maple cuttings… I’ve only had luck with juniper cuttings).

Instead of the common azalea (and usually other trees too) bonsai pruning of - leaving only 2 lateral shoots per whorl, by cutting off the strongest or straightest middle-shoot and the rest of the 5’ish shoots…
…I will do the opposite per whorl to promote length growth of each shoot/branch - cut off all shoots at each whorl and leaving only the middle straightest and strongest shoot.
Then, once the branches are at desired length/height, I will air-layer them off.

Am curious how the layers will work - am not aware of azalea as a common candidate for layering.

As for the cuttings, azaleas tend to be among the easier species. They grow well in very small kanuma particles, or you can simply place them in the pot next to the parent. If it’s warm and humid enough, they can produce roots quickly.

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Yeah… everyone always say azalea cuttings are easy. But, I tried 50 cuttings last Spring (8 azalea and the rest were J maples and 8 nanking cherry)… zero rooted, lol. They looked promising the 1st month; but fungus or weakness got the best of them after 3-4 months I think.
I also did san jose cuttings and was much more succesful… 11 out of 20 rooted.

So, I will just do air-layers from now on - because it’s easier and more success, with the phloem still hydrating the foliage/branches above the cut. Also, I will have much thicker/bigger material to start with from air-layers, as compared to small shoot cuttings.

As far as air-layering azaleas, they are very well known to “ground-layer” easily all by themselves in landscape-plantings, if a long lateral branch droops too low and touches the ground.
Also, I’ve noticed a few of mine (and also many big bushy ones at nurseries) always have a couple twigs/branches with a hairy “beard” on the bottom-side… which are thin dried out roots. So, I am sure they will air-layer very easily.

That makes sense about the ground layers - I’ve seen that too. The trade-off of cuttings vs. layers will also involve the quality of the shoots you’re layering. The idea of growing whips from cutting is that you can bend the whip into whatever shape you’d like. Creating layers will likely involve starting with material that is too thick to bend.

Will look forward to seeing the results of the layers!

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Ah, yes… good point about the bending! I’ll try to keep the layered branches thin then…
…or even do the bending while it’s still on the parent plant (I think I’ve heard Valavanis mention this too with air-layers - create the desired structure soon while the layer is still attached.

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Bending the branches to be layered ahead of time is a great technique. Species like juniper are great candidates for the approach, and I think it’s worth trying for azaleas too!

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I have wired and bent Prunus Mume in order to get some movement in sections for future cuttings with some success!
I think it is worth mentioning that azalea cutting success is highly connected to the age of the cutting material. Newer and subsequently thinner shoots root much more easily! This is not one of those plants that root easily from thicker cuttings!
Also, if one wishes to attempt airlayers on azalea, i would reccomend the tourniquet method rather than the ring method. This a better method for those plants that have proven to be more difficult or slower to produce roots with air layers.
I would be interested to see the results as well if you have time to post pictures as you go along!

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Ah, okay! Thanks!

I’ve never done the tourniquet-air-layer method yet… so, is it just wrapping/twisting a tight wire around the desired point (instead of cutting/stripping off bark/cambium)? How many full-wraps around?
Sounds easier too, than playing with a sharp knife.

Tourniquet works on Ume air-layers too? Or, Ume is just too difficult to air-layer?

The tourniquet method is usually two full wraps and twist the two ends together! Initial tightening can be tight on the cambium, but the intent is to let the tree grow and tighten the tourniquet.
Please do not misunderstand my post, i was not suggesting it would work on Azalea or Ume, i stated it would likely be a better approach to try for more difficult material!
I believe both species are easier and more successfully propagated by cuttings!
Young apical growth ground layering is not necessarily indicative of a plant that is easily air layered on older wood! This is similar to cutting success being higher with new growth.
By all means experiment and share the news!

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Had extra time today, and kept thinking of propagating… so I did it today.

Did 2-3 air-layers for each azalea I have. Hopefully they root this time.
That’d potentially be 12-14 new azaleas by spring, if I’m lucky.

Zero of my +40 azalea and J-maple softwood Cuttings from last spring rooted, lol… so I hope I have better luck with air-layers.

I would’ve done a few air-layers on my Katsura maple too… but I have much less branches to work with now, because a rabbit ate all the lower branches off last week. :expressionless:

Wow, that was fast! The normal time to layer deciduous species is May, give or take - will be interesting to see how fall layers work.

Also makes me wonder when you started the azalea cuttings, what soil you used, and how long the shoots were.

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Haha… yeah, I couldn’t wait until spring. Roots are known to grow in the fall anyways, and it’'ll be warm for a bit longer in SoCal (it was actually a mid-high 90s heatwave all this week).

I did 2 fall layers on a juniper. Both took.
I also did fall cuttings of san jose juniper, 11 out of 20 took.

As far as my azalea and maple cuttings… I did everything by the book - used this years growth, small tip/end shoots around 3-4" some even 2", didn’t leave too much foliage (only a few leaves, some cut in half), out of direct afternoon sun, taken in both April and May, soil is organics with pumice (basically better draining potting soil), hand misted whenever I could, etc.

I took a lot of care… yet all failed.

But, when I didn’t take much care at all with the fall-taken junipers, most of them took.

I’ve heard this from a few others too …some people have accidental success with cuttings when they totally forget to take care of it… then when they try it again, they do everything by the book and use a lot of care, then all/most fail, lol.

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Thanks for the info. Junipers can root just about anywhere unless they stay too wet so that makes sense that they worked so well. They also layer well (depending on the species: procumbens, san jose, and shipmaku work well) and by just about any technique you can think of.

Interesting about the azaleas. I’ve actually broken whips into pieces and rooted sections that are pencil sized simply by sticking them in a pot of kanuma that I kept in a greenhouse. I don’t know that I’d have the same success with them outside as they are less likely to take with more wind and less humidity.

As long as the stems you were using were brown and not green, it sounds like you followed the right steps. I haven’t tried using organics or pumice for azaleas so that might have made a difference (I just use kanuma for azaleas), but that mix works for many other species.

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Yeah… I think it just mainly comes down to the bad environment and also the dry dry desert weather in SoCal.

It was actually 7% humidity this week with the recent heatwave and super dry Santa Ana winds… for perspective. It’s not always this dry tho; but still very very dry most of the time compared to elsewhere in the US. I’ve lived in NY and bay-area before…and my skin was looking the best it ever has, lol.

Even established, old and mature J maples and azaleas struggle in SoCal dry & hot weather (our alkaline water just makes it worse)… so, I am sure cuttings will struggle. Air-layering (or a humid greenhouse) is my only hope in SoCal I believe.

That makes all kinds of sense. It was around 15% humidity up here - 7% is pretty rough! I keep my deciduous and azalea bonsai under 30% shade cloth with walls to cut down the wind and increase the humidity as much as possible.

Will look forward to the results from the more dry-environment friendly approach!

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If you wish to try the cutting approach again, a simple fix is a plastic structure to retain humidity for the cutting stage while rooting! I built a simple wood frame and attached heavy plastic ( vapour barrier ) left one side as a flap for access. I used a heat mat and additional lighting for off season use as a propogation.
In SoCal the warmth is not likely an issue, nor the amount of light, just likely the humidity and wind protection. Here is what mine looks like.