Thinking Outside the Shrub

Bonsai is the ancient art of growing an artificially dwarfed tree or shrub in a pot. Its beauty offers exotic and timeless appeal. For this reason, you may think it takes many years to create a bonsai. However, in some cases, it’s actually quite simple. For example, one can take an Encore® Azalea from a nursery pot and make a satisfying little “tree” in less than an hour. Here’s how to do it!

Choose your specimen

First, choose an Encore® Azalea in a gallon-sized container or smaller. Look at the interior of the plant and select one that has a thick trunk. Snip out any dead blooms. Study your specimen.

Prune into a tree form

Start by removing any excess lower branches, thereby revealing the trunk. Cut out any crossing branches or tiny sprouts that grow upwards. Think tree form. No more than two branches should be coming out of the trunk at the same level. Shorten the azalea by removing larger branches near the top, leaving smaller branches.

Encore Azalea Bonsai Encore Azalea Bonsai

Trim roots

When you have pruned your azalea into a tree form, remove from the nursery pot. Rinse soil from the roots and prune roots to fit into your pot. You can safely remove up to two-thirds of the roots, since you have drastically reduced the size of the plant’s crown. A bonsai pot is wider than tall and should have a drainage hole with a screen across it. Hyper tufa pots can make charming bonsai pots.

Re-pot

Choose a good azalea potting mix that contains lots of organic matter. Position the plant in your pot and add soil to hold the root ball in place. You can tilt the plant or place it off center for effect. Water well and add a rock, moss or other elements to give the illusion of being in the landscape. Now admire your instant bonsai!

Ongoing care

It is not difficult to care for your bonsai. Keep the azalea outside but protect from frost. You will need to monitor the soil, and water thoroughly whenever it becomes slightly dry. Fertilize throughout the growing season, except when the plant is flowering. Use a liquid azalea fertilizer weekly or sprinkle an organic product on the soil at longer intervals.