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Leaf Drop on My Bonsai – Help!

Firstly, don’t panic! Leaf drop is very normal and it doesn’t necessarily mean that your bonsai is dying. There are 3 main causes of leaf drop, as shown below.

Why is my bonsai dropping leaves?

SymptomsWhat to do nextImage
(Very common and nothing to worry about)
– Normally happens within 2 months of receiving/moving your bonsai
Older leaves will drop (those closer to the trunk)
– Newer (often a lighter green) leaves will start growing at the ends of the branches
– Please give your bonsai some time to acclimatise to its new location.
– Keep the soil just damp to the touch at all times.
– It can often take 4-6 weeks before new buds appear
(very common and
very serious)
– Often during hotter periods, but can happen at any time of the year
Older and newer leaves are effected
– Leaves go yellow/brown and crispy
– Symptoms are displayed fairly quickly
– Please stand your bonsai in a container of water for 1 hour so
the water just covers the top of the pot.
– Please watch our watering video and keep the soil damp at all times
– It can often take 6-8 weeks before you see any signs of improvement
(less common and slightly serious)
– Often during cooler periods, but can happen any time of the year
Older and newer leaves are effected
– Leaves go black/brown
– Symptoms for overwatering can take a while to show
– Please watch our watering video and keep the soil just damp at all times
– It can often take 6-8 weeks before you see any signs of improvement

Some Examples of Leaf Drop due to Reacclimatisation

bonsai discolouring leaves

As you can see in Fig.1, the inner leaves are the ones turning yellow. They will further discolour and then drop off.

However, new buds will appear shortly after they’ve dropped.

bonsai dropped all leaves

The bonsai in Fig.2 dropped all its leaves. Yours may do the same and it seems rather drastic. Don’t worry though.

As you can see, all the new foliage there started to grow shortly after they dropped.

bonsai leaf drop new leaves / foliage

Fig.3 shows the strong new growth coming through after some leaves have dropped on this bonsai.

The new growth is indicated by the lighter colour leaves and shoots.

Yellow leaves on my Bonsai Tree – What is wrong?

Yellow leaves on a bonsai tree

Yellowing leaves… .

Yellow bonsai tree not always mean that you have a problem. A number of trees, some evergreens included, have leaves which turn yellow at a certain time of the year. Autumn is, of course, when leaves on deciduous trees change colour and fall. Evergreens such as Chinese Elms and Serissas can change colour during and after the winter period. So how do you know if something is wrong?

Is your bonsai deciduous and if so, what time of year is it?

If it is not autumn or your bonsai is evergreen, which of the leaves are changing colour? Old leaves on the inside of the tree, new leaves throughout or both? It is quite common for trees, especially evergreens, to shed old leaves that are tired and replace them with new ones. If, however, all the leaves are turning including the new shoots, then there is a problem.

Please note:
A bonsai is a living work of art and seasonal changes can sometimes be experienced. Please do not be concerned if, within 2-3 weeks of delivery, your bonsai shows signs of yellowing or falling leaves (normally the older leaves and not the new growing tips). Not all bonsai exhibit these symptoms but it is not uncommon especially in Chinese Elms during early spring. Leaf drop is usually quickly followed by a growth period. Within a few weeks you should notice new bright green leaves starting to develop; these are often slightly larger in size but reduce with time and pruning.



Spotty Leaves On Your Bonsai Tree

Spotty bonsai tree leaves

Black Spot Spotty leaves on a bonsai

Black spot is a fungal disease which affects the leaves.
On a bonsai this usually shows as small dark coloured spots on the leaves.
It is easy to treat but you will need to spray the foliage with a fungicide (available from garden centres).
It is important to repeat spray according to the instructions on the bottle.
If your bonsai does have black spot you will probably notice spots on all the leaves (new and old). If the spots are only on the old leaves please read on!

Old Leaves

Old leaves (ie not the new growing tips) frequently show small spots. These leaves will drop and new ones will replace them. This is just a sign of aging. If there are no spots on newer/younger foliage them I would suspect that this is the cause.

Red Spider Mite

Red Spider Mite is a very tiny pest, which is just visible with the naked eye but can go un-notiiced. It is the symptoms which normally become apparant in the first instance. Red Spider thrives in warm, dry conditions so rarely affects outdoor bonsai.
Bonsai affected by red spider mite tend to display a pale mottling on the leaves. If you look closely fine silk-like webbing and hanging leaves can also be seen.
Eventually a bonsai with red spider mite will start dropping leaves.
To treat for red spider mite we recommend that you spray twice weekly with plant invigorator. Spray to run off so that the leaves, branches, trunk and under the leaves are dripping. Repeat twice a week for 4 weeks and then return to using weekly.



The leaves on my bonsai have gone dry and crispy – what should I do?

The leaves on my bonsai have gone crispy

Crispy leaves on your bonsai
If the leaves on your bonsai tree remain green, but are dry and crispy, then your bonsai has either dried out at some stage or it is in such a hot position that water cannot be transferred from the roots to the leaves quickly enough. Dry crispy bonsai leaves
This often results in the death of bonsai.
To ascertain whether your bonsai is still alive, make a small cut on the trunk or branches in a couple of places. If there is a green layer (Cambium layer) just under the bark then it is still alive, if it is brown, then sadly it is dead.
If there are still signs of life, then keep it cool and moist (just damp and not too wet) until new shoots appear. We recommend a bright position but out of direct sunlight. Be patient as this may take a long time.

If you ever notice that your bonsai has become too dry and the leaves have wilted please stand the bonsai in water, so that the water covers the entire pot for 10 minutes. Then return to checking the watering as normal and keep the soil damp. Please do not over-compensate by over-watering. If a bonsai dries out and drops its leaves it will actually need less water because it is not transpiring!

We also recommend misting your bonsai daily with water, this will aid the recovery and help maintain the humidity. It will also speed up the recovery process.


Massive leaf drop on Chinese Elm

Massive leaf drop: We were contacted recently by a customer, who had purchased a Chinese Elm in the Autumn, having experienced massive leaf drop.
If you’re reading this and have experienced this too, don’t panic! We had a particularly good growing season this year (2019), and so we’re going to see more leaf drop than normal.

Massive leaf drop on chinese elm bonsai

This is due to both the good growing season, and the rapid drop in temperatures that we’ve seen.

As we mention in the details you receive when purchasing a bonsai from us; you should be prepared for some leaf drop with the acclimatising of the plant to your home. This is very normal, as we keep the trees in completely optimal light, heat and humidity conditions in our greenhouse. You, of course, won’t have the same conditions.

You’ll see in the photo that there are plenty of new buds on the tree. This tree, therefore, is alive and well and the new leaves will start to grow over the next 2-4 weeks.
All you need to do is keep the soil *just* damp to the touch. Do that, and all will be well in very little time.

We take the very best care of our bonsai trees, so you can be sure that you’re getting the best product for your money. The leaf drop has simply been unprecedented this year, which is why this is happening.

If you’re thinking about purchasing one, have a look at our Chinese Elm Bonsai in our shop. You won’t be disappointed!

Question about black tips on the leaves of a Serissa Bonsai tree

We have just received this e-mail from Jeff:
Hi Sarah, I have been looking at your web site at you advising someone on their bonsai tree. Do you think you could have a look at mine, as I am at a loss at what to do with it. I purchased it three years ago and it has been fine until this year. All of a sudden it started to lose its leaves, and when trying to grow them back they go dark brown at the ends. All I know about it is that it was eight years old and from china. kind regards Jeff.

Bonsai Direct reply:

Dear Jeff,
Thank you for your e-mail.
Would you mind if we put your question on our website? I think other readers may find it helpful.
Your bonsai is a Serissa (a tree of a thousand stars). The black tips are indicative of slight over-watering. It can be a quick spiral downhill because when the leaves start to drop it actually needs less water than normal.
I would recommend a position with good daylight and out of draughts. Please only water when the soil is barely damp. Please check the soil morning and night and do not water if the soil is wet to the touch.
Bonsai can take a few weeks to recover at this time of year but this should make a good recovery if watered slightly less; enabling the roots to get stronger.
Please make sure that the bonsai does not sit in water in the tray.
I hope this helps
Kind regards

Question about yellow leaves on a Chinese Elm Bonsai

This is a question we have recieved today from Ji Kaur:

Hi, I’ve got a Chinese elm bonsai (please see the image), but the leaves have started to turn yellow. I feed it once a week but water it when needed. Could you please help me with this. Thank you.

Reponse to question about yellow leaves on a Chinese Elm Bonsai

We have received a question about yellow leaves on a Chinese Elm (see image).

Dear Ji,
Thank you for your enquiry. Your bonsai is actually really heathy.
It is growing really well and simply needs pruning. It would appear to be some of the older leaves which are turning yellow and dropping off; this is because the bonsai is putting all its energy into growing on the tips.

If you prune approximately 2-3cm off all the growing tips the bonsai will look quite different in a few weeks. To start with it will look a litttle bald but within the next 3 weeks you will notice lots of new buds opening further back down the branches where the foliage is thinning.

The buds develop into leaves and then grow into shoots. You want to leave the first pair of new leaves and then prune off anything longer. This will achieve denser foliage pads and a less straggly effect.

The watering and feeding regime you have seems to be ideal and the bonsai is obviously happy. A little pruning and your Chinese Elm Bonsai tree will look really great again.

When pruning please use some bonsai scissors or very sharp scissors.

I hope this helps, good luck
Bonsai Direct

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