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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.

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21 replies

  1. I have a 3 year old gardenia bonsai since this April.
    It looked good until two weeks ago. The leaves
    are majority yellow. I’m in New York, it hasn’t
    moved from the windowsill. Temp is around 68 degrees
    If it is cause of autumn, will they all grow back.?

  2. Dear Cheryl,
    Thank you for your enquiry. I regret the gardenia is not a plant I am familiar we. It is very pretty but we do not grow it so I am sorry that I cannot help,
    kind regards Bonsai Direct

  3. Dear Sir
    I recieved a Chinese Elm as a gift purchased from yourselves approx 4 weeks ago. (January 2017) I have read your information which is helpful but I am concerned as a lot of leaves have fallen (say only 40% left on tree).
    Tree is positioned on a window sill for morning sun. room is farly warm (say 20 C) tree is watered regularly (2 to 3 times per week) and pot is in a tray of bebbles usually with water covering the pebbles, yet the leaves which were on the tree when I recieved it continue to drop. (There are some new shoots and new very small leaves). Is this normal and am i worrying unnecessarilly or am I doing something wrong? I’m concerned there will be no leaves left at this rate!
    Nick Aish

  4. Hi Nick,
    I believe this is perfectly normal.
    The bonsai will be re-acclimating and also you can get seasonal leaf drop as you come out of winter into spring.
    It should stabilise in a couple of weeks, then you will get lots of new buds.
    If you are concerned you are welcome to email us a photo
    Many thanks
    Sarah – [email protected]

  5. Hi ,

    I just bought 2 Chinese elm bonsai. They was delivered in the post. One of the trees it thriving, green leaves and new shoots. The other however has been dropping leaves since the day it arrived. The leaves are turning yellow then dropping. There is no sign of mould or red spider or other bugs that I have seen. The tree is practically without leves at the moment.
    I thought it might be to under watering. I have had the trees about a week. I has been watered on top once , and bathed once and given bonsai food in the bath. Both times the soil was dry.
    There has been no improvement. It is not in direct sunlight, its warm ( I understand they came from a green house). There is no sign of any new growths- no new shoots or leaves developing anywhere.
    Not sure what to do. As I say the other tree is thriving.

    Any advice would be much appreciated


    1. Hi Fran,
      It is quite common for bonsai to behave differently even though they are the same species.
      It is also common for a Chinese Elm to drop leaves in the first 2-3 weeks whilst it re-acclimatises and it does not mean there is anything wrong.
      Are the leaves going dry and crispy or changing colour?
      Kind regards

      1. Hi Sarah,

        thanks for reply. The leaves are mostly turning yellow then dropping. I have moved the tree to a different position and the dropping of leaves seems to have stopped. However, some of the remaining leaves have got some signs of going brown and crisp – not the whole leaf, just some parts of it.
        The tree is misted once a day in the evening in addition to watering twice a week. Is it possible they need more water – two five minute baths a week and misting twice a day – morning and night?

        kind regards

      2. Hi Fran,
        The weather has been much warmer.
        It is possible that the bonsai may need more frequent watering.
        As soon as the soil feels barely damp water well.
        We are watering daily at the moment but we are under glass!
        All the best

  6. I have a tea tree have had it for 3 1/2 yrs now from your website.
    I have repotted about a year ago and all going well up until a month ago.
    His leaves have started turning yellow and falling off the tree. This has not been a usual trait from him.
    From the UK

  7. Dear Chris,
    If this is just the old leaves (and not the new growing tips) I suspect this is seasonal.
    It is not uncommon during spring for a bonsai to lose some of the old leaves, this is followed by a growth period.
    If you think this is unlikely please could you e-mail me a photo of your bonsai?
    Many thanks
    Sarah ([email protected])

  8. Hi – any advice would be greatly appreciated – I’ve a lovely small Pepper Tree (Sweet Plumb?) which was absolutely fine until a few days ago (bought 2 on Xmas eve).

    Now one is really suffering, leaves are turning almost white and complete small limbs and leaves are dropping off!! I’ve watered correctly, kept on a wide window sill and only watered when the soil seems not very moist – only thing I’ve done since buying our Bonsai is to add some Japanese soil – Akadama…

    can you please advise?

    Thanks in advance

    1. Hi Martin,
      I have not heard of a pepper tree going white before – please could you email me a photo.

  9. Apologies one and all; my Bonsai is a Pepper Tree -Zanthoxylum Piperitum – not Sweet Plumb 😉

    Looooong day

    thanks again

  10. Sarah

    Many thanks for clarifying my Bonsai concerns, very much appreciated.

    Great forum by the way! It’s always good to know there are helpful and knowledgable people around 🙂


    1. Thanks for your comments Martin,
      They are much appreciated,
      Happy New Year

  11. Hi there. Could you give me a bit of advice please.
    I have a Chinese Elm tree (bonsai). And I am feeding it bonsai focus and I have noticed today that my leaves have started turning yellow and dropping off is that normal or should I be worried.

    Also how often should I feed my tree and alternate between plain water.

    Many thanks.

    1. Hi Dan,
      Is it the old leaves (and not the new growing tips) which are yellowing and dropping?
      If this is the case it is seasonal leaf drop and will be followed by a growth spurt 4-6 weeks later.
      Please check for water daily and only water when the soil is barely damp.
      We feed weekly or fortnightly with water containing feed.
      I hope these videos on watering and feeding help you:

      Kind regards

  12. Hello! I have a Ginseng (Ficus) Bonsai tree. I’ve had it for a little over a year and a half. It had been doing fine, but then the leaves started turning yellow.
    This may have been because I forgot to water it for a longer period of time, but made sure to water it again.
    It’s been a little while, and some of the new and old leaves are turning yellow or just brown and crinkly. Is it going to be ok/do you have any suggestions to help? I’m a bit worried/nervous.
    Thank you so much!! 🙂 Have a good day!

  13. Hi Aspen, Do you keep this outside? If so it could be seasonal. If the leaves have gone crispy this will be caused by insufficient water.
    I hope this helps

  14. Hi there, I got a new Chinese Elm bonsai for my birthday at the end of April. My brother repotted it before giving it to me , and planted it back with the wrong kind of compost.
    I repotted it again, with proper bonsai soil and now it is sitting on my windowsil in front of a mirror, the room is maybe 16 degrees celicius. I also think I may have over watered it at the beginning. I watered it three days in a row, even when the soil was still damp.
    Now some new leaves are turning yellow.
    Please could you help me , should I keep it out of direct sunlight after repotting? Is it ok to keep it indoors or should I leave it outdoors ? Is it normal for some leaves at turn yellow when moved to a new environment ?
    Thanks so much,

  15. Dear Paul,
    I suspect the bonsai is simply re-acclimatising. Please ensure the old soil and new soil are both kept damp and not too wet.
    Over watering for 3 days will have no detrimental affect what so ever.
    I suspect the old leaves will yellow and drop (this should not affect the new growing tips).
    At this time of year new leaves should emerge in about 4 weeks and they grow really quickly.
    I hope this helps
    best wishes
    Sarah – Bonsai Direct

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