Bonsai trees sometimes get a bad reputation as being infamously difficult to care for and keep alive.
Cultivating a Bonsai tree will absolutely take a good chunk of your time and effort, but the result can be that you have a tiny replica of one of the most impressive species on the planet, right there in your own home or garden.
Many plants, including Bonsais, may appear to be dead when they are merely in their dormant cycle. As Bonsais are merely smaller versions of real trees, different species will react differently to weather and environment changes.
Plants do not die suddenly, so read on to learn how you can prevent the need to bring your Bonsai back to life.
Can a Bonsai Tree Come Back to Life?
Sadly, there is no way to bring a bonsai tree back to life. Even so, there are problems you can catch to prevent your bonsai from dying if you act quickly enough.
However, the first question that should be answered is whether your bonsai tree is dead in the first place and if there is still hope of your bonsai tree recovering.
How to Tell if Your Bonsai is Truly Gone
Unfortunately for the novice cultivator, Bonsai trees have many care needs and therefore, there is an infinite amount of things that could be causing your Bonsai to suffer.
By taking a quick visual inventory of your little tree, you can first make sure that your plant is not dead and is either dormant or in need of something different.
Keep in mind that like larger trees of the same species, it is possible for a branch or even branches to die or be dead while the rest of the tree is still living.
Bonsai trees can be very resilient and will come back from something like this. If you have overwatered, underwatered, overfertilized, or any other number of things, all is not necessarily lost.
One of the biggest signs that your Bonsai may be suffering or dying is the appearance of brown leaves, dried needles, or any other unusual, general discoloration.
If your bonsai is suffering or unhappy with the way you are taking care of it, they have no problem letting you know. Other signs for Bonsai owners to look for are:
- Brittle branches
- Droopy appearance
- Lack of growth in a certain area
- Changes to the foliage not related to weather
Environment plays a huge factor with Bonsais, so changes in your plant’s appearance could be sunburn or just the natural growing cycle as the seasons change from summer to fall.
Making a small incision into the branch or trunk with your fingernail can help you to see if the layers up to the hardwood are still green or if they are brown and dead.
Things That Could Be Wrong
If your tree still has green underneath the bark, it is not too late for you to save your tree and “bring it back to life” so to speak.
Different symptoms that your Bonsai may display can mean very different things. Assuming the problem stems from neglect or ignorance and not normal changes to the plant’s life cycle due to weather, you can fix things.
If your Bonsai’s leaves are turning brown or discolored unexpectedly, it could be a sign of several problems.
The most likely reason a tree’s foliage will turn brown is that your plant is experiencing a lack of nutrients. All plants get their food from water and sunlight so make sure the plant is getting their necessary fill of both.
If you are cultivating a Bonsai species that is well acclimated to all four seasons inside your artificially heated or air-conditioned home, the plant is going to be confused.
Keeping your plant in an appropriate location will prevent a lot of unnecessary problems. There are so many other problems you can check for if you feel you have the basics covered:
- Check your tree and its roots for insects that may be plaguing it
- Check the Bonsai for fungus and disease
- Ensure the plant is not in a location that is against its needs e.g. sunburn from too much sun, too much shade, not enough drainage, etc.
It is so important that you know what kind of Bonsai you have in order to provide proper care. Overwatering may result in discoloration and moldy roots, while underwatering could cause discoloration and dry leaves.
To avoid this, make sure your plant has plenty of sunlight and avoid watering on a schedule. Watering when your plant needs it is best.
How to Revive Your Bonsai
Identifying the root of the problem, no pun intended, is essential to being able to reverse your Bonsai’s suffering.
If a certain branch on a tree is wilting or dying, you will likely have to cut the branch off in order to save the rest. A chance to cut is a chance to cure. Pruning this section back will allow the tree to allocate nutrients to other, healthier parts.
As crazy as it may sound, you can overcare for your Bonsai. One of the most satisfying parts of cultivating a Bonsai is the opportunity to prune and wire back leaves and branches to encourage the tree to grow the way you want. Keeping wires on the tree’s branches for too long however, will cut into the tree and harm growth.
Pruning away dead sections is important and can be difficult if the section is substantial.
However, it is equally important to not over prune your tree as your bonsai will probably not enjoy too many changes too quickly. Maintaining the shape and integrity of your tree is one thing, but major changes such as large trimmings should only be done once a year.
After you have removed dying sections, carefully experiment with watering amounts and locations in your home or garden to adjust sun levels. Plants are simple life forms. If given the correct ingredients, they make their own food and basically enrich your living space.
Things to Avoid
In addition to the overzealous wiring and pruning cultivator, the Bonsai’s natural enemy is the neglectful caretaker.
If you are going out of town or are going to forget to water your plant, your bonsai is going to suffer, and it is much easier to prevent your Bonsai from struggling than it is to nurse it back to health.
A few things that you should avoid doing to a healthy Bonsai include:
- Avoid moving the plant around too much, consistency is key
- Avoid changing up your routine; if your Bonsai likes being misted three times a day, you are committed to misting three times a day
- Avoid watering at the same time every day, always check the soil by look or feel
Keep in mind that if you are diligent in watching your Bonsai, it is not too difficult to keep it happy. A little water, a little sunlight, and a little TLC from the owner and your Bonsai is going to flourish and become a substantial addition to your home or garden.
How To Train a Juniper Bonsai Tree might be an interesting article for you!
It should comfort you to know that Bonsai trees do not typically just keel over unexpectedly. There are several signs that your Bonsai will display if it is struggling or dying, which means you can stop and reverse the process.
Paying close attention and recognizing these signs as early as possible will help you keep your little tree alive.
If your Bonsai tree is well and truly dead, there is unfortunately nothing you can do but reuse the pot and start again. Failure is one of life’s most difficult and important lessons.
If your tree has died, hopefully you can learn and grow from the experience so you can be more successful in the opportunities to come.