Enquiry about over-watering or under-watering a bonsai tree and trying to determine what the problem is

We have received an email from James about his bonsai. It is obviously suffering from a watering issue and I have been trying to help him determine the cause of the problem. I thought the following information may be of interest to other readers.

It is not always easy to determine if the bonsai is suffering from over or under watering.
In principle over-watering is a slow deterioration where the bonsai is over-watered for many weeks, the roots begin to rot and then become inefficient at taking up water , you then see symptoms which look similar to the bonsai drying out. (ie. Dry and crispy leaves).
Minor over-watering is often characterised but soft black tips of the leaves.
Another indication of over-watering is the trunk of the bonsai can becoming loose in the pot and it may wobble.

The symptoms of lack of water (under-watering) are rapid, the leaves wilt and go dry and crispy and drop off.
The subsequent bonsai care is different.
If you think your bonsai has been under-watered and allowed to become too dry please stand the bonsai in water so that the water covers the entire pot. Leave for 5 , 10minutes and then allow to drain.
This will evenly re-wet the soil. You can then check daily and keep the soil damp (not too wet). A bonsai without leaves requires less water.

If a bonsai has been over-watered it will take many weeks to see any improvement. The roots must re-grow before you see any signs of new shoots. It is important to keep the soil just damp and not wet. Please do not feed a bonsai until it shows signs of recovering.

I hope these tips help.
Sarah - Bonsai Direct

2 thoughts on “Enquiry about over-watering or under-watering a bonsai tree and trying to determine what the problem is”

  • SongLi

    I juts bought what I believe to be a (musk maple) premna bonsai, Since it came with some live moss grown on the surface, I decided to remove it, at the same time I watered it. the next day I checked, I found maybe 5 leaves on the surface, they were slightly dried up, and they were slightly yellowish, day after that, more leaves started dropping. I only watered two days after I did. The soil feels slightlay dry, is it it a sign of under watering? I'm quite concern, at the moment it's placed with indirect sunlight, Please help save my bonsai

    • bonsaidirect

      This is either a sign or under-watering or re-acclimatising. It is not a bonsai variety we grow so maybe worth seeking help from the nursery that you purchased it.

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