Weirdly, I hear this being asked in a lot of forums for beginners looking to get into the art of Bonsai.
Bonsai Trees, like everything else living, can die. By neglecting to provide the correct conditions for a bonsai, the tree will die. Untreated infections can also lead to a bonsai tree dying. So how do you stop this from happening?
Similar to most plants, the majority of new bonsai hobbyists will end up having a bonsai tree die because of forgetting to water it, or overwatering.
Everyday I would recommend pushing your finger about an inch into the soil and feeling for moisture, if there is none, water the bonsai. Your pot should have drainage holes in the bottom to allow excess water to leave the pot – if there are no drainage holes, the roots will become rotten and the tree will die.
I would also heavily recommend spraying your bonsai with a fine mist everyday, especially if your bonsai is a subtropical species.
Water requirements vary per tree and depending on the time of the year so always be attentive to the tree, don’t just use one routine all year round as the tree will certainly require more water in summer, than winter.
Regular pruning of your bonsai tree can actually be beneficial for many reasons. Firstly, you maintain the aesthetic of the tree, which I assume would be a key reason why you got into the hobby in the first place. Secondly, pruning can help limit any infections that your tree has got.
Pruning a tree will help you get to know the bonsai a bit better, what it likes, what it doesn’t like so much. You’re also much more likely to notice things like scale insects being present, which means you can treat it quicker.
The conditions you let a tree live in can definitely kill a bonsai. If you’re a beginner, it’s advised to have your tree living outside for the majority of the year.
In summer, a bonsai should be outside. Ensure to keep a check on the soil moisture and any infections/pests that might infect your tree whilst it’s outdoors.
When temperatures are consisntely under 15 degrees Celsius, it’s wise to bring your bonsai inside for a short amount of time until it can safely live outdoors again. It can dry out really quickly indoors so keep a constant check on it. Also, window light won’t be enough if your bonsai is accustomed to a lot of natural light outside, so you’ll need to use a flurorescent light or daylight lamp to supplement light.
Pests can harm a bonsai after a long time if left untreated. The most common culprits for the majority of bonsai trees are scales and aphids.
Both of these insects are super easy to treat thankfully. You should notice that the leaves of your bonsai are getting pretty sticky – it’s due to the insects secreting whats known as ‘honeydew’. I have actually written a whole article about these insects and what you can do about them here
It’s pretty important to realise that just because there’s a stereotype of Bonsai trees living for a long time, means yours will. To keep a bonsai from dying does require a lot of constant attention, over a long period of time – they’re a living thing!
If you just like the look of bonsai trees but aren’t the kind of person that can even keep house plants from dying, I would really think about whether or not to start bonsai as a hobby. It’s not the cheapest hobby to get into, especially if you’re starting with a ready formed tree.
Don’t be dissuaded by the fact bonsai trees can die, maybe just look at getting a pretty resilient species, like a Chinese Elm. Have a look at buying starter kits, like this one. From these you can get a rough idea about which species are the best for beginners and most likely to not die too easily.