Have I Over-Watered My Bonsai Tree?

A fairly common problem with new bonsai owners is over-watering of the tree. Not only is over-watering a pointless task, it’s also very damaging to your bonsai and will cause a few very serious health problems within the tree. In this article we are going to breakdown the symptoms of over watering and how you can bring your tree back to health.


If you are over-watering your bonsai tree, the leaves will typically turn very soft and usually yellow/brown in colour. A bonsai tree should only be watered when the soil is just damp to the touch, any more than this will lead to over-watering and the roots becoming very weak.


Photo By BonsaiTreeGardener.net

Over-watering Your Bonsai


If you are accidentally over-watering your bonsai, the leaves are going to turn yellow/brown, droopy and very soft. This is a process that takes a long time to achieve, the odd period of over-watering really isn’t going to effect the tree in too much of a negative way. This tends to be caused by having a regimented watering routine, such as ‘every morning before I leave for work’. It’s very important to work to the trees requirements, instead of your own schedule. Watering is not the most simple task so I have put together a full watering guide here!


The correct way to water a bonsai tree is:
  1. Is the soil damp to touch? If it is wet, not damp, it doesn’t need watering.
  2. Thoroughly water the top soil until water is coming out of the drainage holes.
  3. Leave the pot to drain for 2 minutes.
  4. Repeat this process for a second time.
By following this strictly, it’s unlikely that you’re ever going to over water and cause the roots to weaken. Bonsai trees are not like houseplants and they shouldn’t be treated as such. The soil used in bonsai pots is mixed of normally 3 different components which all work together to regulate the amount of moisture in the soil retains. If you are watering the bonsai tree daily without checking the soil moisture first, your soil is always going to have excess water in it. This excess water clogs up air pockets in the soil making it impossible for the roots to breath, killing them.


When bonsai owners see the symptoms of over-watering, usually the trunk going soft and yellow leaves, this isn’t strictly just because the tree has had too much watering. It’s usually the over-watering over a long period of time has lead to the roots choking and dying. As these now dead roots are sitting in the constantly moist soil, it’s the perfect breeding ground for pests and disease. They will rot away, spreading that disease throughout the root system and the trees foliage is going to start showing the signs.


How To Fix Problems Caused By Over-watering?

If you have only just realised the over-watering issues, it may be early enough to fix the issues. Here are your basic steps in fixing the problems:


  1. Understanding when to water your bonsai tree, to avoid over-watering.
  2. Repotting your bonsai tree, as the dead/rotting roots need to be pruned.

When To Water A Bonsai Tree?

Luckily, for most over-watering problems, if caught early enough, they can be resolved. Firstly we need to understand how much your bonsai should actually be watered, in order to stop this from happening again or continuing. Everyday, push your finger about an inch into the soil to check for moisture – ideally it will feel just damp to the touch when it needs to be watered. The duration between watering will change depending on time of year, placement, species and a huge amount of other factors, so it’s important not to water on a fixed routine, just cater to the needs of your tree. As this is a problem faced by a lot of newer bonsai enthusiasts, I have put together a guide detailing how to know when to water your bonsai.


Repotting Your Bonsai Tree

Depending on the severity of the over-watering and foliage issue, you might need to repot the bonsai tree. When routinely over-watered, the soil is going to be so full of water that the roots just aren’t able to intake any oxygen, leading to their eventual death. As these dead roots sit in the damp soil, they rot away and this spreads throughout the full root system. If your bonsai tree is at this stage, repotting might be the only option.


During the repotting procedure you’re going to be pruning away all of these rotting roots, as they need to regenerate and form new, strong roots. You’re also going to be potting the tree in a proper bonsai soil mix which allows for the perfect amount of water retention, unlike most cheaper soils. Two articles you may find useful during this process: How To Mix Bonsai Soil / How To Repot A Bonsai Tree.


Now it’s a waiting game… If you have over-watered your bonsai to the extent of leaves turning brown and going soft, it’s definitely going to take a long while for the tree to fully recover. You are essentially waiting on the roots to strengthen and regrow, as well as new leaves and buds. During the waiting process, ensure that you are watering the correct amount, giving the tree enough sunlight and giving it the ideal conditions to successfully grow. Note, do not feed the bonsai during this process of rejuvenation.


Final Thoughts 

If you are noticing foliage drooping, turning yellow, turning brown or falling off, there is a potential you are over-watering your bonsai tree. Over-watering causes the roots to starve of oxygen, killing them. They then start rotting, infected the whole root system and killing your bonsai tree slowly. Over-watering is usually caused by either not understanding how to water a bonsai tree or having a bad quality of soil that retains too much water content.


Relevant Articles – 5 Must Know Tips For Watering A Bonsai Tree / Help! Fungus On My Bonsai Tree

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