Bonsai Health Issues: Why Is My Bonsai Dry and Brittle?

  • By: Josh Koop
  • Date: July 10, 2022
  • Time to read: 6 min.
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It is sometimes stressful to be a bonsai tree owner. That little plant is your baby, so you leave no stones unturned for its care. Yet your bonsai is drying out and turning brittle. Now you’re thinking, is it dying? If it’s dying, what can be done? Worry not. Your dried-out bonsai can be replenished to its once vibrant form if you know what you’re doing.

The most obvious reason your bonsai is drying out is because of improper watering. Not just underwatering. It may sound a bit weird, but overwatering too can affect your plant. Non-obvious reasons include sunlight, temperature, soil condition, pot size, and disease.

You can try a new watering regimen, repotting and analyzing its soil and roots.

Now you know the possible reasons why your bonsai is drying out. But how will you identify what your bonsai is suffering from? How will you cure its suffering? Luckily dealing with dry and brittle bonsai isn’t complicated. Reading this guide will make sure you can make the most out of your plant.

9 Reasons Your Bonsai Is Dry And Brittle

Unfortunately, your precious bonsai doesn’t have any way of letting you know why it is dry and brittle. Fortunately, dealing with dry and brittle bonsai isn’t the most challenging problem. Here are 9 common causes why your bonsai is drying out along with their solution.


Beginners make this mistake often. Their love for the plant causes them to overwater their plants. This can be destructive to their plants. Not only does it make your bonsai dry and brittle, but it also facilitates “root rot”.

It is also the reason your bonsai is softening and losing its leaves. Signs of overwatering are damp soil, brittle leaves, moldy base, soft brown leaves.

There is no need to follow a particular routine. Like humans, plants’ water intake will vary depending on temperature and humidity. Water them whenever you notice the soil is dry. You can check this by inserting a stick inside the soil.

Wait for some time and check if the stick is soaked with water. If yes, wait till it doesn’t.


Counterintuitively, people fall into the trap of not watering enough. Bonsai grows in pots with their limited water and nutrients. Both indoor and outdoor plants dry quickly depending on temperature and wind rate.

Dry soil causes the leaves to drop within days. Signs of underwatering are hard soil, dry leaves, stunted trunk, dry roots, and no new growth.

Water as soon as you notice those conditions. Gently water in increments. Continue adding water after the soil has been thoroughly soaked. Stop as water begins dripping out through holes.


Sunlight is essential for plants. Excessive sunlight will cause leaf burns sucking up the moisture. The opposite will cause undernourishment, hampering its growth.

Don’t keep them under direct light or behind glasses. A few hours of sunlight is optimum for most bonsai .

Choice Of Pot

The use of incorrect pot can be fatal for a bonsai . Many of its internal regulations are dependent on the pot size. A relatively small pot will restrict its roots, while a large will clog and contaminate water and soil.

Thus, the pot should be proportionate to the size of the bonsai. Avoid metal pots as they may contain toxins.


It is safe to use solid and liquid fertilizers for bonsai. Fertilizers are critical because they don’t have access to natural fertilizers for nutrients and minerals, unlike outdoor plants. Abrupt use of fertilizers will hamper roots, shutting down vital functions.

Pro tip: Use fertilizers once a month.

Soil Stability

Sometimes soil needs to be changed after prolonged use. Some soils cause water to drain very quickly. It means it’s incapable of holding water. In such cases, you need to re-pot your bonsai.

Ideally, your soil should soak thoroughly as watered and drain extra water ASAP. Using pumice, river sand, charcoal, and fine gravel, you can make your own soil mix.

If your bonsai tree appears brittle and dry, now you know why, along with to-dos. The quicker your attempt to rectify the condition, the better the tree will survive.

Is Your Bonsai Dying? 

An ill bonsai will definitely show some signs of its health deteriorating. If your bonsai is dry and brittle, then it may show a number of other signs that may indicate that your bonsai is dying. Here are some of them that you should know about. 

Color Change

Bonsais naturally change their color throughout their life. Apart from this, they change color when they receive excessive or reduced sunlight. It can also be because you use too much fertilizer. Its vibrant green leaves may become worn and dull.

Discoloration may continue until the leaves turn entirely yellow and eventually brown. If this is the case, you can arbitrarily balance your plants’ sunlight time and fertilizer.

Variations Of Branches And Leaves

Like discoloration, a bonsais branch and leaves can brittle as seasons change. Thus it can be easily overlooked! Brittleness can indicate that it is receiving excessive water or too much fertilizer. Branches that were once moist and sturdy could be dying.

You can sometimes see strange patterns, red spots, or perforated or sticky leaves on the leaves. It could be a disease symptom or an infestation of bugs and pests.

Another thing that can happen is leaves falling off. This one can be very ambiguous. If your bonsai is shedding its leaves along with discoloration and brittleness, it’s a vital sign of dying.

Atypical Roots

Roots can tell a lot about your bonsai. Healthy roots are brownish-white and sometimes green. Rotten roots are (pitch) black, mushy, brown, and wilted. If the roots appear blemished, compact, or torn, your bonsai has problems absorbing nutrients and water .

You can also check for unusual odors. The presence of a distinctive smell may indicate that the soil is damp or contaminated. Shattered and compressed roots suggest that they have outgrown their pot.

Life Inspection

If your bonsai has the above qualities, it is essential to know if it’s still alive. Thankfully, there are a few ways to check.

  • Fingernail Test: Gently scratch the bark surface with your fingernail or a pocket knife. Keep scratching until you find green. Green = Life.
  • Snap-scratch Test: Slowly crook a stick. If it’s alive, the stick will bend easily with moisture within. If not, it will break upon minimum force while dry within.
  • Root Colour: Healthy roots are rigid and brown with some white parts. If the root’s black and mushy, your bonsai is gone.

How To Revive A Dying Bonsai Tree?

Even the most experienced bonsai caretakers make mistakes. If you are concerned that your bonsai is beyond repair, you should do everything in your power to reincarnate it. You can rescue your bonsai using the step below.

Step 1: Determine What’s Wrong

Figure out what went wrong with your bonsai. You care(d) for it, so you might have noticed something faulty. If not, check again. Look closely for infected and dead areas among leaves, branches, and bark.

Your bonsai will give you signs that will direct you to its proper diagnosis and treatment.

Step 2: Don’t Hesitate To Prune

Prune moderately wherever possible using clean scissors. Remove dead, brown, wilted rotten, and potentially infected leaves and roots. They have no use. Trim till you come to the healthy part.

Step 3: Water Therapy

Fill a water bath with lukewarm water. Let the bonsai soak. Remove after two to three minutes. Prepare a new container by this time.

Step 4: Change Soil And Repot

Gently pull out your bonsai, getting rid of all the soil. Make sure you properly clean the pot and unclog the drain. Or get a new one. Make a standard porous soil mixture with nutrients and fertilizers. After filling one-third, center the bonsai in the container and fill the rest. Don’t tightly compact soil.

Step 6: Placement And Watering

Put it in a place that receives morning sun and afternoon shade. The location should also have adequate air circulation with moderate humidity. 

Do not keep it anywhere you think is contaminated or has a risk of getting infested with pests. Properly irrigate it.


If your bonsai is drying out, now you can take proper action. The sooner you try to fix the problem, the better chance the tree will survive.

It may seem intimidating at first, but you will be filled with fulfillment and gratification once you get started and see results. With adequate care, your bonsai can outlive you!