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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

Jade Tree Indoor Bonsai requires minimal watering

Perfect beginners indoor bonsai for sale
  • Perfect for beginners
  • Easy to care for
  • Minimal watering
  • Low maintenance
  • Fast growing
  • Perfect for children
Portulacaria afra/Crassula ovata

An absolutely fantastic indoor bonsai variety which is incredibly easy to care for. This bonsai does not require regular watering, making it significantly easier to care for. Ideal for complete beginners and highly recommended for children. A wonderful bonsai with character and beautiful proportions.

Buy Jade Indoor Bonsai
Buy Jade Indoor Bonsai (Portulacaria afra) with free delivery to most areas.

The miniature Jade Tree (Portulacaria afra) is an indoor bonsai which has small round pad shaped leaves and a compact habit.
A highly recommended bonsai for complete beginners or children who are starting out – a very forgiving tree!
This bonsai requires minimal watering so is perfect for those who forget to water!
A tree which originates from warmer climates, hence its adaption to require less water.
If you have a particularly warm room this variety will thrive.
Jade trees often feature strongly in feng shui designs and make the perfect gift symbolising luck and prosperity.
This Jade Tree is very similar in appearance to Crassula ovata [the Friendship Tree, Lucky Plant or Money Tree bonsai]; they are frequently mistaken. The Jade Tree (P. afra) has smaller and rounder pads and more compact growth making it far more suitable to grow as a bonsai. It is also hardier and faster growing.
This is a variety of bonsai which is far better to be barely damp. It does not require frequent watering like other varieties. It is not frost hardy but will grow very happily in your home or office.
Another wonderful quality of this tree is that it is very easy to take cuttings from. Cuttings are best taken in spring or summer, then allowed to dry out for a day before potting into a very free draining or gritty compost. Keep the soil moist and in a few weeks you will have a little baby plantlet.

We believe this to be an exceptional bonsai that does not receive the credit that it deserves.
An under-rated indoor bonsai variety in our opinion but one we highly recommend.

Tree meanings
Bonsai in general symbolise peace, harmony, order of thoughts and balance.
The Jade tree makes the perfect gift; symbolising luck and prosperity

Jade Indoor Bonsai Care Summary

Positioning & Temperature
The Jade is an easy indoor bonsai species to care for. It likes a bright position, with good natural daylight, but as with all bonsai, should not be placed in a very hot position in mid-summer. It is not fussy about temperature, but it is not frost hardy so would not be suitable to grow as an outdoor bonsai during the winter months.

Watering
This is very simple for the Jade bonsai. Regular watering is not essential. The soil damp be maintained just damp (i.e. water once a week).

Misting
Misting the leaves of your Jade bonsai is not necessary.

Feeding
Feeding bonsai trees is good practice. The bonsai rely on us to provide the nutrients and trace elements they need. A well balanced bonsai feed, such as Bonsai Direct Fertiliser, will maintain healthy and beautiful trees and promote growth, fruiting and flowering.

Pruning/Styling
The Jade Bonsai is a relatively fast growing bonsai variety and is fun to prune and style.  To maintain the lovely highly defined foliage pads and pretty canopy it is important not to let the shoots grow too long and straggly. By keeping the shoots trimmed, you will be encouraging back budding and new leaves to grow. Most new growth will appear during spring or summer. Allow a shoot to grow approx. 4cm and then prune back to the first two new leaves. Use a sharp pair of bonsai pruning scissors to do this. Within 4-6 weeks you can usually see signs of new shoots emerging further back down the branches, it is very rewarding.

Growing/Propagating your own Jade bonsai trees
We are frequently asked for bonsai seed kits but the reality is that thee kits are rather a disappointed. They frequently don’t germinate and it is not the best way to propagate indoor bonsai trees. You are far better to purchase a bonsai, so you can enjoy growing it, and propagate new bonsai by taking cuttings.
Another wonderful quality of this tree is that it is very easy to take cuttings from. Cuttings are best taken in spring or summer, then allowed to dry out for a day before potting into a very free draining or gritty compost. Keep the soil moist and in a few weeks you will have a little baby plantlet.

Re-potting your bonsai
If a bonsai becomes pot bound the roots cannot grow. Consequently, the tree cannot grow. The younger the tree the quicker it is growing and the more frequently it will require root pruning or re-potting. As a general rule you are looking at approximately every 2-3 years, and older specimens every 4-5 years. If the pot that your bonsai is in is aesthetically large enough, you may simply be able to root prune your bonsai and it may not require a larger pot at all. Re-potting is best done when the bonsai is actively growing during the warmer summer months. If the bonsai requires a larger pot, simply lift the root ball out of the current pot, tease out approximately one quarter of the root ball with a chop stick to loosen the roots around the edge and position into its new, slightly larger, pot. Use good quality, free draining soil, such as Akadama, and work around the edge of the pot. Stand your re-potted bonsai in water, so that the water covers the whole pot, for approximately 5 mins and then allow to drain.

Akadama is a high quality Japanese bonsai soil made from dried loam. It is granular, so is free flowing and easy and clean to work with. The small balls also encourage the growth of lovely fibrous feeder roots, which is what we want when growing bonsai trees.

Bonsai tips
Please avoid using air freshener near your bonsai, they are not overly keen!
Jade bonsai trees respond well to the use of a Plant Invigorator to help keep the free from pests and help promote new growth. We use this weekly as a preventive measure.

Over-watering Bonsai Tree Symptoms

Overwatering bonsai tree symptoms

Overwatering bonsai treesIf the tips to the leaves on your bonsai go soft and black/brown this can indicate one of two problems:

  • Your bonsai is suffering from over-watering.
  • Your bonsai has been hit by frost or become too cold.

In the case of indoor bonsai, brown/black tips to the leaves is usually indicative of over-watering. Frequently this is also associated with the bonsai becoming loser or wobbly within the pot. Over-watering is not something which happens quickly; it is a slow degenerative issue which slowly rots the roots and the bonsai can even exhibit symptoms of wilty leaves (usually associated with lack of water). This is because the roots become weak and do not function properly.

If you observe these symptoms please place the bonsai in a cooler position with good daylight and out of direct sun. Check the bonsai daily for water and only water the soil when it is barely damp to the touch. It will take along time to see new buds or leaves; in this time you are hoping that your bonsai will re-grow the root system. It is important not to feed a bonsai during recovery.

 

 

Watering your Bonsai Tree

Watering your Bonsai

Watering is one of the most important aspects of growing bonsai – we hope you find this DVD clip helpful in growing beautiful, healthy bonsai trees.

DO NOT ALLOW YOUR BONSAI TO DRY OUT.
Check your bonsai morning and evening to see if it needs watering.
If the soil looks dark and feels wet the it will NOT require watering.
Only when the soil looks light brown and feels barely damp will your bonsai require water.

When you do water, water the soil thoroughly until the water drains through into a tray or saucer.
Never let you bonsai dry out and avoid keeping it constantly wet.
Remember the hotter the position the more water your bonsai will use.
If the soil surface becomes hard during hot weather simply submerge your bonsai in water, to cover the soil surface, for about 10 minutes.

Outdoor Bonsai watering update…

Tuesday 26th Feb 2013…

I have been unexpectedly busy watering today. This is the first time we have needed to water our outdoor bonsai in February.

Please check your outdoor trees because although it has been cold, the last 2 weeks have been surprising dry and it would be so easy to overlook bonsai which are outside and allow them to dry out.

Even deciduous bonsai, which are currently out of leaf, should be checked for water. There is no need to feed your outdoor bonsai yet – most of them are still dormant.

Wrap up warm… it’s cold out there!

Avoid over-watering your Pine and Juniper Outdoor Bonsai

We have had a substantial amount of rain this summer and autumn.

Both Japanese White Pines, Japanese Black Pines and Chinese Junipers prefer to be kept more on the dry side and consistent over-watering can result in root rot.

Normally this is fine, but with the never ending rain I wanted to pass on a couple of tips.

  1. When re-potting pine and juniper bonsai trees please use a free draining soil.
  2. Do not pot into very deep bonsai pots.
  3. If the weather is dreadful for a long period of time please cover the pot with a polythene bag or place in an unheated glasshouse. Obviously, you do not want the root ball to dry out so use this as a temporary measure only.

Great question from Daisy – symptoms of over-watering a Chinese Elm indoor bonsai tree.

Hi

Please could you give me some advice?
I bought a bonsai from you back in March and until about a month ago I had no problems, now it has started to lose leaves, with them turning brown/ black on the ends before falling off. It started in just one small area (branch) but now seems to be spreading across a larger area. The bonsai has continued to produce new shoots in these areas but the leaves don’t seem to mature and just fall off, with some branches now almost bare! I have been regularly feeding and have just bought some plant invigorator in case this helps.
I would be grateful for any advice, I have attached some photos
With Thanks
Daisy

Bonsai Direct reply:

Dear Daisy,
Thank you for your e-mail and photos.
I can see exactly what the problem is , slight over-watering.
The symptoms are classic , slight browning of the leaf tips and then they drop.
You may find the bonsai is a little more wobbly in the pot.
I am so pleased you have asked for advice at this early stage because all you need to do is reduce the watering a little.
Only water your bonsai when the soil is barely damp to the touch and then water well.
I would think that as the temperature has dropped the bonsai is using less water and so the roots are beginning to rot.
Please carry on with the same position and feeding, generally the bonsai looks great.
The SB Invigorator is very good. We use it weekly to prevent pests but it also feeds the bonsai and keeps it strong and healthy so please continue with this too.
I hope this helps
Kind regards
Sarah