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.


The majority of Bonsai trees can be revived, especially if they have just been neglected – it’s slightly harder if they have an infection. To start with, remove all of the dead of infected areas using clean pruning scissors – some parts of the tree aren’t worth saving. Let’s get into more detail…

Reviving A Bonsai Tree Consists Of 5 Main Steps:

  1. Trim The Dead Parts
  2. Pruning The Roots
  3. Repotting The Bonsai
  4. Watering
  5. Sunlight & Recovery

Trim The Dead Parts


If you have dead leaves and branches on the bonsai, which I assume you do, trim off as much as you can. I say this because if your tree has an infection, there is little you can do with those branches and it’s best to remove them before an infection has time to spread.


Don’t go too silly with it, only prune what you need to. For the mean time I wouldn’t worry about ruining the actual shape of the tree, it’s just about saving it.


This goes without saying but remember to clean your pruning scissors before starting this process or you could risk infecting the bonsai and worsening the condition.


Pruning The Roots


There could definitely be an infection in the roots of the tree, which maybe the reason you’re having to revive it. There are a few easy steps to prune the roots of your bonsai:


  • Remove your bonsai from its pot, trying to minimise stress by not just pulling it out, loosening round it first.
  • Start removing all of the soil using your fingers, chunks will break away – it’s not an exact science so you don’t need to be too precise.
  • Use a root picker to unpick the roots until you see the general mass.
  • Cut off about a third off the mass, don’t trim more than a few of the main roots – try the growth mostly.


This will encourage new root growth and hopefully help minimise any infection that the tree may have had. It can be pretty stressful for the bonsai so keeping a daily check on it after pruning roots is very important.


Repotting The Bonsai


Getting the right nutrients is going to be really important for the bonsai at this time so I would recommend using a bonsai soil.


Ensure that the new pot has drainage holes and mesh over them, to allow the water to seep out and not over saturate your bonsai.


If you have any trouble fitting the root mass into the new pot, you can size it down even further but I would advise against going too far with it, aim to remove as little as you can to fit it neatly into the pot – you don’t want any roots breaking above the surface of the soil.


Water The Bonsai


This goes without saying, you have to water your bonsai, especially after the stress we put it under with the pruning and repotting.


I personally use filtered water with a bonsai feed in it but you can just use any water you have at hand. Water the soil evenly until there is excess water coming through the drainage holes in the pot.


I would recommend misting any off the foliage left on the tree. I use a gardening mist bottle but really any sprayer bottle will work just fine. For more information, check out my guide on how to properly water your bonsai tree.




Like the majority of living things, bonsai trees need a lot of sunlight to grow and live healthy. If your bonsai is subtropical, like a Chinese Elm, they are really dependant on getting a large amount of light – if you haven’t been doing this, it could be why you’re having to revive a tree!


In the hot seasons you need to leave the tree outside, unless specifically told otherwise.


In cold seasons, the majority of bonsai trees will need to come inside and go into a brief dormant period. Most people forget that during this time, a bonsai will still need a LOT of light to remain healthy.


It’s recommended to use fluorescent lights during the colder months to give your tree extra light for those few hours of light every day. Don’t leave the lights on for a while 24 hours or your tree will not get any rest time and will most likely grow itself to death – and that’s going to be a hard one to revive!


If you follow these steps and maintain your bonsai tree, it should gradually nurse itself back to life over the following months. Be sure to keep checking on the tree daily, don’t just do these 5 steps and leave it alone because the chances are the tree will die.


On an ongoing basis you need to mist the leaves and keep the tree watered. I would recommend pushing your finger 1 inch into the soil and feeling for moisture. If there isn’t damp soil, it’s time to water the bonsai.


Also, depending on the time of the year, make sure that if your tree is a subtropical tree, like a Chinese Elm, you return the plant to an outdoor environment as being inside all year round isn’t good for your bonsai.


Most important, don’t give up hope now if you don’t see immediate results. Depending on the condition of the tree, it could take until the next season to see any regrowth in the shoots – just keep tending to the bonsai and it should be okay.


What If None Of This Works?


If you have tried everything here and in the summer months your bonsai tree is still not looking good – it maybe time to give up on it. Trees like the Chinese Elm are very hard to kill so don’t give up quickly but at some point you’ll have to call it quits if no progress is being made.


I would recommend either buying a bonsai tree or just buying a nursery stock plant and pruning it to your desired shape and look.


It goes without saying that if you notice the bonsai tree leaves are sticky or you see large bumps on the bark, you will have aphids or scale on your tree. Now, these won’t be a reason why your tree is dying but it’s best to not have them around as they can harm the growth of the bonsai. I have actually written a whole article on how to remove scale and aphids from your bonsai so be sure to check it out if you think this applies to your tree.


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