March 13, 2021

Bonsai Tree Dying

Is your bonsai tree dying? Are the leaves starting to go yellow or even burnt looking? It maybe a case of under watering or over watering. Find out how to tell for sure in this post! We’ll explore:

  • Why is my bonsai turning yellow?
  • How to revive a dying bonsai?
  • How do I know if my bonsai tree is dying?
  • Over watering
  • How to save an over watered bonsai tree
  • How to save an under watered bonsai tree

I get quite a few emails from concerned bonsai lovers, asking why their beloved plants are dying. Sometimes there’s actually nothing wrong with their plants. But caring for our ‘babies’ can be stressful and we over react.

Other times, the problem is that the plant has been over or under watered… and it can be hard to tell which! I’m going to give you some helpful hints in this post so you can diagnose what’s going wrong!

Keep track of watering…

Almost always when someone tells me their bonsai is struggling I ask when they watered last.

Usually they don’t know the answer!

I totally get it. Keeping track of watering can be a pain. But it will absolutely help you keep your bonsai trees alive longer.

While you can use anything to record your watering dates (pen and paper, spreadsheet, notes on your phone) I have found that using the BonsaiDo app has been the easiest way for me to track my group of bonsai trees.

Inside the app you can record all kinds of things about your bonsai trees— names, watering, repotting, treating for bugs, photos, etc.

I highly recommend downloading this  app and recording each time you water. And if not on the app, record it another way so you have helpful information so you can better diagnose what’s happening with your bonsai trees.

And now… let’s get to the diagnosing!

Why is my bonsai turning yellow? Dried out, dying leaves

First of all, it’s important to keep in mind that dying leaves are a natural part of every plant’s life — and bonsai trees are no exception. This doesn’t always mean that your bonsai is dying, or that you’re doing anything wrong. Bonsai trees can turn yellow, mainly due to a watering issue.

As your plant grows, it creates new leaves, while the older ones die. So, if you’re seeing dry, crispy leaves at the bottom of the plant–and only at the bottom– there’s no need to worry. This is normal!

If the dry leaves start to get unsightly, just gently pull them away from the plant and throw them away. When you remove the leaves, keep your plant potted so you don’t disturb the roots.

Only pull off the leaves that come off easily, or are totally dead.

How to revive a dying bonsai?

Over-watering

While dead leaves at the bottom of your bonsai are perfectly healthy, dead leaves on the upper parts of new growth are a sign of a problem–usually over- or under-watering. Soil can also cause problems for bonsai trees, as I explain in this article.

If your plant’s leaves are starting to look yellow and transparent, and feel soggy or mushy to the touch, it’s likely suffered from overwatering.

An early sign of over-watering is that leaves will start to fall off with just a slight bump. If you start to notice soft black spots on your plant’s leaves or stem, the over-watering is getting severe, and it may be difficult to save your bonsai.

Here’s a bonsai in which the plant has been severely over-watered, and has completely rotted as a result. You can see that the stems of the plants in the bottom left are starting to rot as well.

How to save an over-watered bonsai tree

The best way to avoid over-watering is to make sure your soil is completely dried out before watering again. As I’ve said in a lot of my other articles, most bonsai trees can easily go three days (and sometimes even a week or more) without water–so when it doubt, wait before watering.

As soon as you notice the symptoms of over-watering on one of your plants, start by cutting back on your watering schedule. Also check if you might need to switch to a better soil mixture.

But if you’re seeing black spots on the stem, you’ll need to do a little surgery to save your plant. This is much easier than it sounds! Just cut off the top of your plant, trim away any black spots, give the cutting three to five days to dry out, then propagate it in new soil.

On the cuttings below, you can see how I cut off every part of the stem that was soggy or blackened.

While it’s unlikely that the original plant will survive, it’s worth waiting to see! Leave the bottom section as-is, and don’t water it until the soil is dry (all the way to the bottom of the pot). If you’re lucky, a few days of drying-out time will allow the plant to recover from the over-watering, and it may start to put off new growth.

Under-watering

While over-watering bonsai trees is the most common problem, many bonsais are also sensitive to under-watering.

Juniper bonsai tree dying? I’ve found that Juniper Bonsais like to be watered more frequently than other bonsais.

With a little more frequent watering, this bonsai will look good as new in a week or two.

How to save an under-watered bonsai

For the most part, it’s much easier to revive an under-watered bonsai than an over-watered one. If yours are just starting to wrinkle, they’ll probably perk up pretty quickly after one or two watering cycles. However, if they’ve almost completely shriveled up, I’m sorry to tell you that they’re probably too far gone to recover.

To help them recover best from under watering, make sure you soak the soil really well when you water. Make sure you check out my post on how to water bonsais to do this the right way.

If you’re feeling adventurous, and maybe a bit desperate, you can also try water therapy. This is ONLY for under watered bonsai trees though.

I hope that by understanding these signs and symptoms of watering problems, you’ll be able to save your bonsai before it’s too late.

Other problems

While over or under watering tends to be the most common problem new succulent growers face, there are a few more issues you may run into. These may include: bug infestations, internal infections, and more.

A bonsai tree dying usually occures because of under or over watering. Monitor your watering via the BonsaiDo app and you should have healthy bonsais.

About the author 

Greg Reed

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  1. If your plant’s leaves are starting to look yellow and transparent, and feel soggy or mushy to the touch, it’s likely suffered from overwatering

  2. Okay just learned a new thing about bonsai leaves. We need to always check if there are over or under watered. It will help in sustaining them

  3. Going through this post, I got to know the kind of balance the bonsai tree require. Watering is an essential part in the growth, but in bonsai tree probably we need to be more precise.

  4. Wonder article, I always wanted to have a bonsai but I thought they were very hard to take care of and I didn't know where to have information about them. I'm sure that many people like me will find it very helpful your blog.

  5. I know that previously I said that this does not much water. However the fact remains that this is a plant so by any means it needs TLC. I aint much of a plant guy but I will take all the info I could get so thanks!!!

  6. The details of the criteria are very nice when this bonsai show signs of dying quite early. And, prevention at that time is the ultimate thing.

  7. Your knowledge of the Bonsai tree in very good and exhaustive. I had no idea that over-watering can actually be a problem.

  8. So dried up leaves are okay when they are at the bottom and not at the top. Thanks so much. I'll keep that in mind.

  9. One should always monitor their Bonsai to catch problems early. It's much easier to sort out the problems if identified early.

  10. It's interesting to learn that Juniper Bonsai actually need more watering than normal. That's very vital info right there.

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