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The leaves on my bonsai have gone crispy

Crispy leaves on your bonsaiAre the Leaves on your Bonsai Dry & Crispy?

If the leaves on your bonsai tree remain green, but are dry and crispy, then your bonsai could have dried out at some stage. Alternatively  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 are indicative for one of two things:

  • The soil of your bonsai has dried out. The symptoms are usually very quick (ie. within 24 hours). The top of the bonsai is usually the worst affected because the top of the tree is furthest from the roots where any water is.
  • The position where your bonsai tree is kept is too hot. Again the top of the tree will be worst affected and the leaves will go dry and crispy. The will feel papery in texture. The symptoms will be quick, but the soil may not have dried out. Essentially what has happened is it that your bonsai cannot translocate any water in the pot from the roots to the leaves quickly enough to prevent dehydration.

Both of these can unfortunately result in the death of the bonsai if total dehydration has occurred.

Is your bonsai still alive? – How to check.

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. A brown layer would suggest that it is sadly dead. Please do check in several places as it is normal to have ‘veins’ which are alive and some which show no evidence of green.
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 (several weeks or months depending upon the time of year).

Misting the branches and twigs is good practice.

Our best advice, in addition to keeping the soil damp, is to mist the branches twice daily with water, to maintain humidity. Furthermore, if you have a garden please place any dry indoor bonsai outside in a sheltered semi shaded location. Please don’t forget its out there! It will still need to be kept damp.

If you ever notice that your bonsai has become too dry and the leaves have wilted please stand the bonsai in water. Ensure the water covers the entire pot for 10 minutes. This will evenly re-wet the entire root ball. 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!

Don’t forget to mist your bonsai daily with water, this will aid the recovery and help maintain the humidity. It will also speed up the recovery process, so any new leaf buds should emerge more quickly.

32 replies

  1. Please help! I got a bonsai last summer and all through its first winter its leaves have been falling out and branches drying out. On the link there is photos of how it looks now at the end of winter. What should I do to save it?

  2. Hi Yvette,
    How frequently do you water your pepper bonsai? The soil looks very dry and I just wonder if this is a simple case of not watering frequently enough.
    For now please stand the bonsai in water so that the water covers the entire pot for 5mins. Does it bubble? Once it is well soaked – this will evenly rewet the entire root ball please then allow to drain. Then check daily for water and water well when the soil looks barely damp.
    I hope this helps
    kind regards

  3. Hi, my Bonsai’s leaves are turning brown, crispy and falling off. Any ideas on what I should do?

    1. Dear Lauren,
      It sounds as though your bonsai has really dried out.
      Please take a look at this article which should help you:
      I hope this helps
      kind regards

  4. Hello guys,

    I have Chinese elm bonsai tree. It’s been doing amazing on my north facing windowsill, I check it daily for watering, mist it every morning and evening (because it’s summer now), prune and it about once a week/2 weeks just to keep the nice shape, fertilise about 2 times a month.. and overall everyone who saw it says that it looks really amazing and it is obvious I take a really good care of it.

    But about a month ago I noticed some green stuff on the soil (akadama/kiodama soil mix). It didn’t really look like a mould, but I said to myself I will lower the watering for next few days so if it is a mould, it will dry out. But it looks like my whole tree dried out, because the leaves are all crispy (though still green, just few turned yellow) and if i shake the tree a bit or even just touch it, the leaves are falling down. I went back to my watering routine immediately, but nothing seems to change after 3 weeks…

    I really really love my bonsai, but could you tell me the truth – is it dead? 🙁



  5. Dear Moneo,
    I suspect that your bonsai is still alive, but has dropped its leaves to protect itself from total dehydration.
    All the affected leaves will drop.
    If you have a mister, please mist the trunk and branches daily with water (tap water is fine).
    This is in addition to keeping the soil damp.
    3 weeks is not long enough to see any improvement – you would need to give the bonsai at least 2 months.
    I hope this helps
    kind regards

  6. We recently purchased a small potted bonsai. We have since noticed that the leaves are quickly drying out and curling, but are still green with a few that turned yellow before curling and drying out. We are not sure if it is drying out, being over watered, or has another type of disease that would require fungicide. Any tips?

    1. Dear Alyssa,
      If the leaves are going papery and dry then it is likely to be insufficient watering. It is difficult to say without seeing the bonsai.
      Kind regards

  7. Dear Team,

    I really need some advice and unfortunately although there is lots of info online some of it is very hard to dig out. I have purchased a specimen example Chinese Elm as my first bonsai tree so I want to make sure it stays in good health. It has been placed in my conservatory for the winter period and its original home had informed me it had lived in a heated greenhouse for several years before hand. I have only had the tree for a couple of weeks so I understand that Chinese Elm need time to climatise. Most of the tree looks perfectly healthy..fresh green with lots of new buds opening, but I can wake up to see leaves going very yellow, sometimes yellow brown, others just totally brown overnight. This includes bew growth not just old…. I have been watering only when the dampness isndll drying and have recently purchased your bonsai direct food which I plan to use when the pot is starting to dry. if it helps with your diagnosis I had waited until a couple of waterings and then used Westland bonsai feed concentrate just once.which was 5days ago.
    I cannot work out what the yellowing and browning is and why it is also affecting new growth ? Please help me on my bonsai journey.

    1. Hi Joe,
      I suspect this is just the bonsai re-acclimatising to its new position. I hope it has stabilised now and the new shoots continue to grow.
      Old leaves dropping at this time of year is not a cause for concern as they bud back so quickly.
      I hope this helps
      kind regards sarah

  8. Good Afternoon,
    I had received my Chinese elm bonsai tree about 4 months ago as a gift and after about a month, new growth was very visible. Up until about a month ago, the tree was thriving, but now all of the new growth has fallen off and the old leaves have gone crispy and dry but still are green. I have made a few cuts on the trunk and have seen that about an inch from the soil, underneath the bark is brown, but when I moved up about 2 inches, the cambium layer is green and is that way up to the top from what I can tell. What does that mean and is there anything I can do to ensure that is stays alive?

    – Jamison

    1. Dear Jamison,
      For the leaves to go dry and crispy then the bonsai must have dried out. I hope this link helps you:
      Kind regards
      Bonsai Direct team

  9. i could not water my bonsai for 6 days and now all the leaves are falling .what should i do?

  10. Please stand the bonsai in water for 5 mins then allow to drain. The just keep the soil damp.
    All the leaves may drop and it will take at least 6 weeks to see new buds forming.
    I hope this helps

  11. Hi I have a Carmona Bonsai, I got it about two weeks ago and a couple of the leaves are turning yellow and brown and the flower shoots have turned brown. After reading on here that it could of dried out I’ve cut into the bark and its green is there still a chance it will survive?

    1. Yes of course the bonsai could be alive Richard. Please keep the soil damp at all times. If you think it may have dried out here is some advice :
      I hope this helps
      kind regards

  12. Please help! I got a bonsai around 2 months ago and the leaves are dry and crispy. Some of them have fallen off but they are still green. I cut open the bark in two places and there is still a thin layer of green but brown over the top. How do I save him? Or is he dead 🙁

    1. Hi Liv,
      I am assuming if the leaves have gone dry and crispy that your bonsai has either dried out at some point or become very hot and scorched.
      If this is the case it is good that the cambium layer is green.
      Please stand the bonsai in water for 5 mins to evenly rewet the whole root ball, then allow to drain.
      From then on keep the soil damp but not wet. Mist the leaves daily with water to increase the humidity.
      It will take a good 6-8 weeks to even begin to see any signs of improvements.
      I hope this helps – Bonsai Direct

  13. Hi,

    I was given a Chinese Elm bonsai as a gift around two months ago. It was in great health and thriving, however, over the last week or so, the leaves have begun to wilt with a lot of them falling off. From what I have read online, I believe the problem to be either under watering or over watering, could you please help me to identify which?


    1. Hi Vincent
      If you would kindly go to the top of our website and click the button that says help, advice and contact you should be able to go to the appropriate section and upload some photos so we can check this for you.
      I hope this helps

  14. Hi I got a bonsai last year and it was doing fairly well however, in the last week all my bonsai leaves have turned brown and started dropping very quickly. I checked the root and it is alive however I don’t know what to do. I moved apartments recently as well but it is nearly identical to my old one so the amount of light has not really changed. Please help as this is an important tree to me and I don’t know how to save it.

    1. Hi Kirsten,
      This sounds like a watering issue. Please clean off any old, loose leaves and stand the bonsai in a container of water for 10 minutes so that the water just covers the top of the pot. Then allow to drain. Following this, please keep the soil just damp at all times, and do not allow the soil to be too wet, or too dry.
      Here is a link to our watering video, which you may find helpful:

      Please also mist the leaves regularly with water to increase the humidity.
      It may take 4-6 weeks to see any signs of improvement, but hopefully over the coming weeks you should see new buds forming.
      I hope this helps.
      Kind regards,
      Bonsai Direct

  15. Hi, I’ve had my chinese elm bonsai for only 4 weeks and 3/4 of its leaves are gone. I noticed a few had fallen, and then when I was running my hands over the leaves they were just snapping off really easy. The leaves were all still a healthy green colour so it doesn’t make sense to me. I water every other day and i mist the leaves daily. I’m confused if I’ve over or under watered. Or if it’s even a watering issue? Maybe it’s a light issue, but my flat is very bright. Possibly it needs repotting? Please can you help? I feel 4 weeks is not nearly long enough for me to have killed it already

    1. Hi Kelly,
      This does sound like a watering issue. It is also likely that the bonsai is still reacclimatising to its new location, which will cause some leaves to drop. Please keep the soil damp at all times, and mist the leaves regularly with water to increase humidity.
      Here is a link to our watering video, which you may find helpful:

      It may take 6 weeks before you see any improvements, but hopefully you should see new buds forming soon.

      I hope this helps.
      Kind regards,
      Bonsai Direct

  16. Hi, I recently go a oriental tea tree bonsai as a gift 5 months ago and a few months later we experiences extremely hot weather and the leaves started to turn brown, crisp and drop off I kept watering my bonsai so the soil was damp and a few new leaves came through a couple weeks later. However we recently experience hot weather again and now the rest of the leaves are starting to fall as well and there is only green cambium on the bottom of the trunk near the roots and on the left branches however, the middle of the trunk and top branches have no green. I don’t understand how this can be as the trunk seems to be half dead but then leads to some branches that are still alive and I was wondering what I should do??

    1. Hi Chloe,
      You can get veins of cambium running down the whole trunk which support higher branches, so for the next 4 months I wouldn’t do anything but allow the bonsai to try and recover.
      Please do not be inclined to over water – just keep the soil damp and the bonsai away from direct light if it gets too hot.
      If half of the trunk is not alive this is not actually a problem – many trees in the wild are like this.
      If a bonsai/tree gets too hot the top is always the worst affected.
      It struggles to translocate the water from the soil to the top of the tree quickly enough before it gets dehydrated.
      Lets review it in the winter or possibly in the spring when it starts growing away and make a decision on what to do.
      I hope this helps

  17. Hi, I have a question. I have new leaves developing and just after they shoot, they die and fall off. This is ongoing and can’t seem to curb it. Your advice would be appreciated.

    1. Hi Roy, this could be happening for a number of reasons. Please send us a few good quality images of your bonsai and we can help you further! You can send the email to [email protected]. Many thanks, The Bonsai Direct Care Team.

  18. Hi, I bought my son a juniper bonsai for his birthday (what he wanted) I noticed he had it on his window ledge where it gets direct sun, and also noticed that some of the leaves and branches on top had become very dry and brittle, so have watered the life out of it and popped it outdoors in a shady but warm spot and check it daily is there anything else that I can do, and will those crispy leaves come back to life. thanks Sandy

    1. Dear Sandy, I suspect that a hot window sill caused the bonsai to dehydrate on the top.
      I suspect these branches will need to be pruned back but please send a photo to [email protected] so we can give you the correct advice.
      A juniper likes to be on the drier side so please keep the soil just damp. Keep it outdoors in a sheltered position. It likes full sun.
      I shall wait for the photo before we give you more advice,
      kind regards
      Sarah – Bonsai Direct

  19. Hello everyone!

    I bought a Zanthoxylum bonsai 2 weeks ago. Since then, the leaves have started to dry and wilt. I know it takes time to acclimatize, but I’m very worried that I’m making a mistake with watering. I wet the soil ball twice a day with a mist of water.

    Thank you in advance.


    1. Hi Bence,
      It sounds like the bonsai isn’t receiving enough water. Please clean off any old, loose leaves and stand the bonsai in a container of water for 1 hour so that the water just covers the top of the pot. Then allow to drain.

      Following this, please keep the soil damp at all times, and mist the leaves daily with water to increase humidity.
      Here is a link to our watering video, which you may find helpful:

      Please position your bonsai in a bright location but avoiding direct sunlight.

      Best wishes,
      The Bonsai Direct Care Team.

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