Azalea Satsuki are possibly the most beautiful of the evergreen azalea groups, and their blooms are highly prized by gardeners. There are hundreds of named Satsuki hybrids, including Azalea Haru No Sono and Azalea Nuccio's Lucky Charm, many of which have received the RHS Award of Garden Merit. These particular specimens are very special, mature azaleas that have a sort of dwarf tree shape complete with beautiful gnarled trunks.
Satsuki Azaleas have been cultivated in Japan for hundreds of years, but were just introduced to UK gardens in the first half of the twentieth century. Since then they have become garden favourites for their pink, white and red blooms. They were originally hybrids of Rhododendron Indicum and Rhododendron Eriocarpum, native to the Japanese islands. Satsuki means fifth month in Japanese, and that is when these azaleas bloom, 60 days after the spring equinox, in May and lasting into June. There is a wide variation in the colour markings and size, depending on the individual cultivar, with blooms from 2-10 cm. The leaves, ranging from 1.5-5 cm in length, are generally oval in shape, and remain year-round, providing a winter foliage show in the garden.
Satsuki Azaleas are not overly hardy, so are best grown in the milder regions of the UK. Most cultivars will grow to a mature height and spread of 1.5 metres in 20 years, although some hybrids are prostrate and suited for tumbling down a wall or out of a container. Once flowering has finished in June, cut off the spent blooms, and prune fresh growth back to 2 shoots with 2 sets of leaves of on each branch.
Satsuki Azaleas should be planted in acidic, moist, well-drained humus-rich soil, in a sheltered position with morning sun and afternoon shade. Mulch with 5 cm of compost or pine straw after planting, and then every spring, to keep the roots cool and maintain soil fertility. Fertilize monthly except during the blooming season and winter. Satsuki Azaleas are suitable for planting in coastal regions, and are tolerant of pollution so will grow well in city gardens.
Satsuki Azaleas are well-suited to container planting, which makes them a good choice for a rooftop terrace or a city courtyard or patio. In more northerly regions they could be taken in to a conservatory in winter.