Why Is Your Bonsai Tree Brittle?

The major causes of brittle or dehydrated bonsai trees are underwatering, overwatering, abusively temperate heat, a small pot, or old age. Some of these issues are purely circumstantial and can be remedied quickly.

It is certainly hard to find a house plant as timelessly cool and visually stunning as a bonsai tree.

These tiny recreations of actual pre-existing trees found in nature take a lot of patience to care for, so it makes sense if you would want to do everything in your power to keep it around for as long as possible. A common, albeit unfortunate, cause of death for these trees is dehydration. 

By checking the soil you can identify the problem without too much of a hassle. Brittle bonsai trees are salvageable if you know what to look for, and most solutions are hassle-free.

So, put on some gardening gloves and grab a spade—read on to learn why your bonsai tree is brittle and how you can improve your bonsai’s health. 

Why Your Bonsai Tree Is Brittle: Dehydration 

Why Are Bonsai Trees Special

Dehydration is one of the main causes of brittle bonsai trees. You just might not be watering your bonsai tree enough, or conversely, you may be watering it too much.

Bonsai soil is different from typical potting soil in that it has ingredients like pumice and lava rock to help drain water to keep the roots from getting oversaturated with moisture. 

Factor in how hot it may be outside that day and you may be changing up your typical watering regimen. Here are a few things to look for when checking your soil:

  • Up to an inch of dry soil
  • Stagnant water pooling
  • The daily temperature

By keeping a mental checklist centered around these three factors, you can identify the main cause of your problem on the spot.

One of the best parts about having this knowledge is you will not need to go out and buy any expensive equipment and can diagnose the issue by hand or using a household thermometer, for example. Using these methods is one of, if not the fastest way to nurse your bonsai back to health.

How Dry Is the Soil?

repotting blueberry bonsai

Use your finger to judge the state of the soil. If you are finding that it is about an inch deep and not finding any moisture it is time to water your bonsai tree. You typically want to do this once a day, depending on the climate.

Do not be afraid to test the soil, it could be that it is not retaining the moisture as it should. As previously mentioned, it is a specific mix of ingredients that help keep a bonsai tree nourished.

An imbalance in this mixture could lead to the water not staying around long enough to actually do anything for the plant. This may be a little bit of trial and error, but it is paramount that you figure out a healthy balance for your tree.

The Problem with Pooling

At first glance, it may not seem to be a problem that in your findings you come across stagnant water pooling at the bottom. This is, however, a pretty big issue for the roots and the tree as a whole. This can cause your bonsai tree to essentially “drown” from not getting enough oxygen to the roots. 

While water itself keeps the bonsai tree healthy, water pooling causes rotting and needs to be removed as soon as possible to preserve the bonsai tree. The roots rely on oxygen and the pooling can inhibit this oxygen from getting to them.

Again, you can test the soil to make sure that the water you provide is actually being absorbed by the soil and the roots instead of just sitting at the bottom causing all sorts of problems.

Time to Take the Temperature

This one seems obvious but is commonly overlooked. Too often does a bonsai tree owner overwater a plant because it may be a hot summer day, or conversely, not water it enough because the heat is stealing the moisture from the plant before it can collect its nutrients.

Since watering your bonsai tree varies from species to species and climate to climate it may be a good idea to consult with your local botanical retailer to find out exactly what yours needs.

However, you can check yourself by taking note of how hot it is one day and then checking the status of the soil after watering. 

In the summer months, it may be a good idea to water earlier in the day to avoid the hotter afternoon temperatures.

Proper Potting and When It Is Time to Say Goodbye

How Quickly can a Bonsai Grow from a Seed

At this point, if the water does not seem to be the problem then you are likely looking at a problem with the size of its pot or the age of the tree.

Bonsai trees will outgrow their living spaces and need to be taken care of so they may continue to grow properly. Aside from that, maybe your tree is simply too old. Here are a few things to take note of while you do a little housekeeping: 

  • Undersized plant space
  • Rootbounding
  • Age of your tree

Bonsai roots are an intricate system that requires pretty regular maintenance and observation. You should check to make sure that the roots are not outgrowing their space and pruning yearly to promote healthy growth.

By doing this preemptively, you can avoid a lot of issues in the long run. Keep in mind these tricks to keep your bonsai’s irrigation flowing freely. 

Identifying Root-Bound Plants

Something to look for is what gardeners call “root-bounding”. Root-bounding is the event in which the roots of your plant become too large for its container and begin wrapping around themselves over and over to the point of detriment.

This is never good, as it basically suffocates the plant with overgrowth. The problem is that you will not see it unless you actually look for it. 

If you notice your bonsai tree has started looking dehydrated and the moisture in the soil is not the problem, then it is likely because your plant is root-bound.

Carefully remove your bonsai tree from its pot and check to see if the roots are dry or otherwise overwhelming. Prune the older roots until you get to the smaller new ones. Place the tree in a new, somewhat larger container and return to your regular watering schedule.

Sometimes It Is Just Time

Unfortunately, plants have life cycles just like everything else in nature. It can be difficult, as we want to see our plants thrive forever, especially one as legendary as the bonsai tree.

The good news is that bonsais typically outlive the average 100-year lifespan of a typical tree due to their miniature stature. 

The oldest known living bonsai tree is actually 1,000 years old and is cared for tirelessly. Chances are that if you are the recipient of a younger bonsai tree you will more than likely have to leave it in your will.

Owners of older trees, perhaps inherited or otherwise acquired, will have to find out how old it is to know its story. With proper care, however, these trees are known to last a mighty long time.

Are Bonsai Trees Poisonous to Humans might be an interesting article for you!

Final Thoughts

Bonsai trees are beautiful, historically impactful plants in the world. It is nearly impossible not to be fascinated by the sight of these trees. Maintaining and caring for bonsais has even been known to relieve stress, calming caretakers everywhere with age-old methods.

Owning one of these trees is a rite of passage in the gardening world. Nowadays, you can even buy kits to learn how to grow your own. 

Using the tips and tricks provided in this article, you will be well on your way to caring for your own gorgeous bonsai trees, both new and old alike. While it can come off as intimidating caring for something so storied, it can be a lot of fun taking care of something like this.

Always remember to check the soil first before fully removing your tree from its planter and take it slow. 

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