How To Revive A Bonsai Tree

If you’ve been neglecting your hobby recently, you might be wondering how to revive a bonsai tree. I’ve personally never killed a tree but I’ve done some research on how to revive one should I ever mange it.


To revive a near dead bonsai tree, the best course of action is repotting. Take your bonsai tree out of the pot, prune the roots, place it in new bonsai soil, water lightly and place in an area with great natural light. Let’s go into more detail…
A Bonsai Tree That Needs Reviving – Photo From Flickr

Why Your Bonsai Tree Needs Reviving

The first step in reviving a dying bonsai tree is getting to the root cause of why it is actually dying. There are a few reasons why a bonsai may need to be revived, some much more common than others. If this cause is not identified, it’s going to be relatively pointless trying to save the bonsai as you will most likely end up in the exact same situation again a few months down the line.

Possible Reason 1 – Under-watering

The most common reason a bonsai tree will be dying is due to forgetful owners not watering it. Bonsai trees have access to only a small amount of soil and nutrients, so they get thirsty and run out of water extremely fast. A lot of new owners tend to treat these trees like succulents, only watering them once in a blue moon and wondering why the foliage is turning brown.

Learning how to properly water a bonsai tree is crucially important or the tree is going to get in the exact same situation again. To learn, have a read of my article: How To Water A Bonsai Tree – this has everything you’ll need to know to avoid under watering.

Possible Reason 2 – Over-watering

I would say the second most common reason for a bonsai tree needed to be revived will be over-watering. When the soil is constantly watered or not allowed to drain properly, the soil will retain a huge amount of water. The roots are going to be sat in the water and starved of oxygen. This leads to the death of the roots, which will then start to rot away.

Over-watering can also be caused by the soil not being a proper bonsai soil mix. Bonsai soil is specifically designed to have the right level of water retention to avoid killing the roots. Have a read of my article: Have I Over-watered My Bonsai Tree, for more information on this topic.

Possible Reason 3 – Completely Wrong Growing Conditions

If I got £1 for every time someone told me that bonsai trees are just indoor trees, I would be a very wealthy guy! Although some tree species can be grown indoors, that isn’t the majority! Bonsai trees need exactly the same conditions as they would be getting if they were growing out in nature. What does that mean? Well, the sunlight, temperature, humidity, frequency of watering, all of these need to mirror the outdoor world!

Growing a subtropical bonsai tree, that in nature would be exposed to warmth and high humidity, in a cold rainy country is going to be extremely hard to do! Likewise growing a tree that thrives in the cold, indoors in warmth is going to be impossible as well.

It’s worth doing some research on the species of tree you are growing as bonsai as they all have vastly different requirements. Some love full sun all year round whereas some need partial shade… If you have been growing your indoor tree, outdoors for example, there is a possibility that it can still be revived successfully.

Possible Reason 4 – Disease Or Infection

Trees, much like humans, can get diseases that really damage or even kill them. These diseases can range in severity, some leading to small steps like repotting, or some just leading to the death of a bonsai. There are a vast amount of infections that may have plagued your tree, so if you honestly think that it caught a disease I would recommend contacting a local bonsai club or nursery for advise. This isn’t the most common though, most trees only need reviving due to a lack of care.

How To Revive A Dying Bonsai Tree

The best way to revive a bonsai tree is to repot it. This can be very stressful for the tree but at the point of ‘revival’, you don’t have many options so it’s worth attempting.

I have a full guide here: How To Repot A Bonsai Tree (Step By Step), but I’ll cover it here too.

Step 1 – Figure out what has caused your tree to get to this point. 

Step 2 – Slowly work your bonsai tree out of its pot. 

Step 3 – Using chopsticks or a hook of some kind, start untangling the roots and picking away the soil attached. Keep untangling and cleaning soil away until you can see the base of the trunk. 

Step 4 – Spray the roots with some water to keep them as healthy as possible whilst working on them. 

Step 5 – Using a pair of clean pruning scissors, prune away 1/3 of the roots. Try to find any that look dead or infected and ensure these are removed during that process. 

Step 6 – Either clean out that bonsai pot with hot soapy water, or prepare the new bonsai pot. This includes using mesh over the drainage holes. 

Step 7 – Cover the bottom of the pot with a new bonsai soil mix. For more information on creating your own bonsai soil mix, have a read of my article. 

Step 8 – Place your bonsai tree on the soil, slowly pressing it in and spreading the remaining roots out around the pot. 

Step 9 – Fill in the rest of the pot with the soil mix. Use the chopsticks to push the soil into all the gaps around the roots. 

Step 10 – Lightly water the bonsai tree, then place it in partial shade. 


The bonsai tree is now repotted. If all goes well, the roots are going to start rejuvenating and the tree will thrive in the coming growing season. This method is not guaranteed to revive the tree, it is a fairly stressful procedure that usually wouldn’t be undertaken on a tree that wasn’t healthy. The reason we do this anyway is because at the stage you are needed to ‘revive’ a tree, it’s really the last option so it is worth trying.



What If None Of This Works?

Depending on the condition of the bonsai tree, sometimes nothing can be done for them. If the tree is deeply infected or the root system is completely dead, no repotting is going to be able to save the tree unfortunately. After repotting, wait a few weeks with the bonsai tree placed in partial sunlight to see if the health of the tree starts picking up.

Typically after repotting and pruning a root system, the tree will be weaker for a short while. A short while later, the pruned roots are going to start regenerating and start getting strong again. Should this not be happening, there is likely nothing that can be done for the tree.

At this stage, especially if you’re thinking of owning another bonsai tree it’s very important to actually know why the tree ended up dying. If it was due to disease, over-watering, under-watering, being in the completely wrong growing conditions, not getting any natural light. By knowing why the tree died, you will be able to hopefully get another bonsai tree and keep it alive this time! If you cannot find out through online research, it maybe worth contacting a local bonsai nursery and taking your tree in for inspection. They should be able to identify the root cause and explain exactly how to avoid the situation happening again with another tree.

Related Articles – How To Grow A Bonsai Tree / How To Care For An Indoor Bonsai




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