My Bonsai Tree Is Dry And Brittle—What To Do?

A bonsai tree that is dry and brittle needs a bit of TLC. If you've noticed that your bonsai tree has become increasingly brittle and is displaying signs of dry leaves and stems, you've come to the right place. In this post, we will discuss why this condition may occur and how to resolve it.

If your bonsai tree has grown dry and brittle, it's likely under-watered. If the bonsai tree isn't receiving the necessary hydration to thrive, the leaves will become dry and brown and shrivel up. The tree's bark will also become dry, cracked, and may turn light or dark brown. Often, by the time the tree reaches this stage, it may have suffered irreversible dehydration damage. However, if it is at the onset of the symptoms, you may be able to save and revive the tree.

Before purchasing a bonsai tree, it's important to know how to best maintain the plant to help it stay healthy and vibrant. Underwatering and overwatering the tree can send it into an unhealthy state that will quickly show up in the form of falling, discolored, or brown leaves. Continue reading to learn how to prevent this.

A small and strong looking bonsai tree planted in a white ceramic pot, My Bonsai Tree Is Dry And Brittle—What To Do?

Why is my bonsai tree so brittle?

When your bonsai tree becomes brittle and dry, it means that the tree isn't absorbing enough water to stay healthy. Dehydration can be caused by too much sun as well as under-watering --the likely cause. Techniques to bring the plant back to a state of health include changing the watering regimen, repotting the tree, and examining its soil and roots.

A petted bloom bonsai tree decorated with small pebbles on top of a table

How often should a bonsai tree be watered?

The frequency at which to water the bonsai tree depends on the tree size and pot size. Bonsais are fast-draining trees that don't retain a lot of water. On average, you may need to water the tree anywhere from one to four times a week. Some smaller trees may even require watering once a day.

As a general rule, it's best to always test the soil before watering the tree to ensure adequate hydration. To do this, push your finger about 1-inch down into the plant's soil. If the soil feels crumbly, then the tree is likely due for a watering session.

However, if the soil is moist, you may want to wait another day to test it again. If the soil is waterlogged, it's best to let it drain or dry a bit to prevent the tree from getting root rot. After watering the tree, let the water drain out of the pot for about 2 minutes. 

You'll also want to know the number of drainage holes in the pot. For example, if your pot has only one drainage hole, the plant will not retain a lot of water and may need it more frequently. Note that if a bonsai tree develops root rot, the fungus will be very hard to get rid of, and the tree will require a lot of strategic pruning.

How do you revive a dried bonsai tree?

A dried bonsai tree will need a dedicated maintenance plan to be restored to health. Let's take a look at the steps needed to make it happen.

Prune any dead leaves and branches

The first thing you'll need to do is grab a pair of pruning shears and remove any leaves or branches that can't be saved. This includes leaves that have wilted, become discolored, or appear crispy. When cutting back the branches, do so only to the trunk or to the healthiest node.

A beautiful and well maintained bonsai tree planted in a clay pot

Note that you don't want to over-prune the tree if it is extremely damaged. And if this is the case, wait for the tree to show signs of life after a few weeks before doing so. Once the tree starts to recover, trim back the branches and cut any dead leaves away--but do so moderately.

Find this pair of pruning shears on Amazon.

Prune the tree's roots

Next, remove the trees root ball from the pot and inspect the root system closely. Use a pair of sterile shears to cut away any wilted or dead roots. If any roots show signs of infection or damage, trim them back to the healthiest part

Give it H20

After the pruning session, place your bonsai tree in a glass container filled with tepid water. Let the water reach the bottom top of the root ball, and then allow the tree to sit in the water for about two to three minutes. Then start preparing a new soil mixture.

Repot the bonsai

Wash out your container with fresh water and mild soap. Remove any dirt that may be stuck to the inside of the pot and fill it with fresh, nutrient-rich soil. You can also add perlite or loam to the mixture to help with aeration.

Make sure that the drainage holes in the pot are completely unclogged, and then place your tree in the pot. Cover the roots with the soil and make sure that it covers about an inch above the root ball.

Find perlite on Amazon.

Place the tree in a prime location

You can place the tree back in the same location as before if it was warm and partially shaded. If not, find an area where the tree can get at least four to six hours of daily sunlight.

Also, ensure there are no drafty areas or heated vents nearby, as they can affect the tree's recovery ability. Lastly, make sure the temperature in the room is above 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Establish a new watering regimen

Your bonsai tree will need regular irrigation if it is to recover from dehydration. However, you still want to allow the soil to dry slightly before each subsequent watering session. Dehydration can quickly turn into an overwatering issue if you're not careful.

And, of course, it's always best to perform the finger hydration test to be certain. Note that the tree may require less water in the winter months than in the summer. And finally, be sure to monitor the tree over the next few weeks and look for signs of restoration.

How do I keep my bonsai moist?

A small and nicely maintained bonsai tree on a clay pot

The best way to keep your bonsai tree moist is to simply water it. The frequency at which you water the tree will vary from tree to tree, but most bonsais will require watering at least one to two times a week during the growing seasons and maybe once a week during the autumn and winter months. Smaller bonsai trees may require more frequent watering.

If you notice that the tree's leaves are drooping, turning yellow, or that the trunk has become flimsy, the chances are that the tree is overwatered. If this occurs, cut back on your watering sessions. Be sure to test the soil beforehand and let it dry out of it before the next watering session.

Should I mist my bonsai tree?

While it's not absolutely required, it can be helpful--especially if you have low humidity levels in your home or heated plants in the winter. Misting can add humidity to the bonsai's location, which in turn helps to hydrate the plant.

However, the best way to keep the plant hydrated is to water it. It may also be helpful to place a humidifier in your home to keep an eye on the temperature and humidity levels. A humidity level of 40% to 55% is ideal for bonsai trees.

Read more details about this humidifier on Amazon.

Should I remove dead leaves from bonsai?

Yes. It's typically best to remove any dead leaves from the tree as they can soak up essential nutrients and water that the vital areas of the tree can better use. However, cutting them may be too much of a shock to a struggling tree in some cases.

So to say, if your bonsai tree is in a state of recovering from ill health, be sure to prune only in moderation and when absolutely necessary. It may also be helpful to only defoliate small sections initially, and then do a bigger job after it's recovered.

Wrapping Things Up

If your bonsai tree appears brittle and dry, don't wait too long to try to revive it. Start your watering and new maintenance regime immediately. The quicker your attempt to rectify the condition, the better chance the tree has to survive.

Before you go, be sure to check out a couple of our other posts:

5 Best Types Of Soil For Bonsai Trees

How To Keep Bonsai Leaves Small

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