I recently acquired a dying bonsai tree from a local, that I have been desperately trying to save. The tree has been absolutely neglected for months so it’s proving quite difficult. I’ve done a fair bit of research though, which you might find useful to help save your dying bonsai tree.
Not every dying bonsai tree can be saved. The best port of call is to prune the bonsai thoroughly, then re pot and nurture the tree.
Potential Causes Of The Bonsai Dying?
There are definitely a few different reasons that might have lead to the death of your bonsai. The most common would be…
Bonsai trees, like other living things, can get infected. Infections aren’t too common for trees being grown indoors, but it’s still possible. The good thing is, with most infections, they aren’t going to completely kill your bonsai if you are happy to get stuck in and try to save the bonsai from dying.
A common mistake for beginners is to over-water a bonsai tree, as most beginners are very paranoid about their tree dying. The issue is, bonsai trees only need so much water. If you continuously water a bonsai tree, beyond what it needs, it can develop what is known as ‘root rot’, which is detrimental to the trees health. Along side that, if you’re trying to grow a bonsai in a pot that doesn’t have drainage holes, the bonsai isn’t going to last long at all – the excess water needs to be able to freely leave the pot.
On the flip side, a lot of people will completely forget to water a bonsai tree for weeks at a time. Neglect is definitely, in my opinion, one of the biggest reasons to why a bonsai tree will die. Forgetting to water any sort of plant or tree, will eventually kill it and bonsai are no different. Under-watering is one of the hardest thing to overcome, most trees really struggle to bounce back from this neglect.
Lack Of Light:
As basic as it sounds, bonsai trees have certain needs, one of which is light. By keeping a bonsai in a cupboard or maybe in an office, where it doesn’t get a whole lot of sunlight, it is really going to have a hard time surviving.
Pruning The Bonsai
Using clean pruning shears, you want to do your best to remove any areas that are beyond saving. What do I mean by that? Look for areas such as dead or wilting branches, or extremely ‘dead’ foliage. This won’t be doing your dying bonsai any good at all. I would recommend cutting back your bonsai as much as possible – of course this can put a lot of stress on the bonsai but if it’s a last ditch effort to save the bonsai from dying, it’s definitely worth a go. Also, make sure that you’re keeping the pruning shears very clean to give the tree the best chance of survival.
Next, remove the dying bonsai from its pot. If you have never pruned a bonsai tree before, I would definitely recommend checking out a guide on how to safely prune a bonsai. If you are slightly more familiar, you’re going to want to use a picking tool to pick the excess soil out of the root mass, then start trimming away the dead or wilting roots. As I said before, make sure you are using a clean set of shears for this, or you’re potentially going to be causing the dying bonsai more harm than good.
Re-potting The Bonsai
So now we have done everything we can to remove the potential infection that the bonsai has, we will of course need to be re-potting it. Depending on the specific case, the bonsai tree might be too dead to save, so I would recommend not bothering to buy a brand new pot, rather just clean out and reuse a bonsai pot you have previously used.
You’ll want to use a good soil mixture to give the dying bonsai the best chance of survival. Now, although I’m not an expert in this field, I have been doing a lot of research and it seems that a mix of very nutrient rich potting soil and perlite is the best way to go. Create your mix, line the drainage holes of your bonsai pot with wire meshing then fill the pot a third with your soil mixture. Place your bonsai tree in the pot, then continue adding the soil.
Now, you’re going to want to water your bonsai tree as your normally would, before allowing the excess to flow through the drainage holes to avoid root rot. Place your bonsai tree in a suitable area, where it will be getting a good level of light, heat and ventilation. I would definitely avoid leaving it outside for the next few weeks, as the tree does need time to recover.
Have you managed to save the dying bonsai? At this point we can’t be sure, it most likely won’t do anything until the trees next growing rotation anyway, so you just need to keep up the maintenance. It’s very important to keep the bonsai tree watered, but not over watered as the root rot will definitely ruin any chance of you nursing the tree back to life.
Sadly, there isn’t really a secret that going to apply to every single bonsai, especially when you may not actually know what caused the ‘death’ of the bonsai tree in the first place. Hopefully, with any luck, following these basic steps should help nurse your tree back to life over the coming months. If not, don’t give up on the hobby, get yourself another tree and learn from any mistakes you might have made on this tree! The majority of the time, from what I have observed, most people talking about bonsai trees dying have completely neglected them for a long time, or not done any basic research on their specific tree. Bonsai trees, as a whole, are pretty resilient to a lot of things, arguably much more so than a lot of house plants, so it’s pretty rare to hear of a well looked after bonsai, dying for no reason.
I wish you the best of luck and I hope your bonsai tree is nursed back to health!