Why is My Bonsai Tree Turning Brown: Quick Troubleshooting Guide

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Bonsai trees are a beautiful and rewarding hobby, but they require careful attention and care to thrive. One common issue that bonsai enthusiasts face is when their tree starts turning brown. This can be a sign of various issues, including environmental stress, pests, diseases, or improper care. In this blog post, we’ll explore the reasons why a bonsai tree might turn brown, how to diagnose the problem, and what you can do to address it effectively.

Watering Issues

Watering plays a crucial role in keeping a bonsai tree healthy. Bonsai trees can turn brown if they receive too much or too little water, leading to underwatering or overwatering respectively.


Underwatering is a common problem that can cause the leaves of a bonsai tree to turn brown. When the tree does not receive enough water, it becomes dehydrated, leading to browning leaves and a wilted trunk. To prevent underwatering, ensure that the bonsai tree receives the appropriate amount of water, which may vary depending on factors like the size and species of the tree and the environmental conditions it is exposed to. According to The Plant Bible, solving underwatering issues quickly is crucial to prevent the tree from dying.


Conversely, overwatering can also cause the leaves of a bonsai tree to turn brown. Overwatering leads to excessive water being trapped in the soil, which can cause root rot, depriving the tree of essential nutrients. A proper bonsai-specific soil mix, as mentioned by HGTV, allows water to drain effectively without becoming compacted. To prevent overwatering, monitor the tree’s watering needs closely and adjust your watering schedule accordingly. For outdoor bonsai trees, watering may be needed every day it doesn’t rain, especially during hot summer months, while indoor bonsai trees might require watering every 2-3 days.

Environmental Factors


Bonsai trees thrive in specific temperature ranges depending on their species. Ensuring a stable and appropriate temperature is essential for their well-being. Temperature fluctuations or exposure to extreme heat or cold can cause the leaves to turn brown and eventually fall off. Be aware of the optimal temperature for your bonsai tree and maintain it consistently throughout the year.


Providing adequate light for your bonsai tree is crucial for its health. Insufficient light can result in the leaves turning brown due to the lack of necessary energy for photosynthesis. Determine the light requirements of your bonsai species and place it in a location with the appropriate amount of sunlight or artificial light. Additionally, remember to rotate your tree regularly to ensure even exposure to light.


Humidity plays a vital role in the health of bonsai trees. Most species require a certain level of humidity to maintain their foliage and prevent leaf browning. Keep the humidity around your bonsai at the recommended levels by using a humidity tray, misting the leaves, or employing a humidifier. Monitoring and maintaining the proper humidity will help retain the vibrant, green leaves of your bonsai tree.

Pests and Diseases

Bonsai trees can be affected by various pests and diseases, leading to their leaves turning brown. In this section, we will discuss common pests and fungal diseases that can harm your bonsai tree.

Common Pests

Several pests can damage your bonsai tree and cause leaf browning, including aphids, spider mites, and scale insects. These pests feed on the plant’s sap, robbing it of essential nutrients and causing leaves to turn brown and die (source). To prevent such issues, regularly inspect your bonsai tree for pests and treat them using insecticidal soap or neem oil if necessary.

Fungal Diseases

Another common issue that can lead to browning leaves is fungal diseases, such as Anthracnose or powdery mildew. These diseases spread through airborne spores and can infect your bonsai tree, causing leaves to develop brown spots or patches, eventually leading to overall browning and leaf loss (source). To prevent the spread of fungal diseases, maintain proper air circulation around your bonsai tree, avoid overwatering, and if needed, treat the affected areas with an appropriate fungicide.

Nutrient Deficiencies

Bonsai trees require adequate nutrients to maintain their health and appearance, and a deficiency in essential nutrients can lead to leaves turning brown.

Recognizing Deficiencies

For example, iron, nitrogen, and magnesium deficiencies are common causes of bonsai trees suffering from brown leaves Bonsai Tree Gardener. It is crucial to pay close attention to the health and color of your bonsai tree’s leaves, as changes in color and texture may signal problems requiring intervention. Preventing deficiencies includes regularly fertilizing the tree, ensuring it receives the necessary nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

How to Correct

Fertilizing your bonsai can help mitigate poor soil conditions and provide adequate nutrients for your tree. Liquid fertilizers are often recommended, as they contain the vital minerals required for optimum growth Soak and Soil. To correct nutrient deficiencies:

  • Use a balanced liquid fertilizer consistent with the needs of your particular bonsai species.
  • Apply fertilizer according to the manufacturer’s instructions, ensuring you do not over-fertilize your bonsai.
  • Monitor your bonsai tree’s progress, adjusting care as needed based on the appearance and health of the leaves.

By being attentive to potential nutrient deficiencies and proactively managing them, you can help maintain the health and beauty of your bonsai tree.

Pruning and Trimming Errors

One common reason for a bonsai tree’s leaves turning brown is improper pruning and trimming techniques. When new shoots are cut or pruned, it can sometimes cause the surrounding foliage to turn brown, starting at the tips[source]. To avoid damaging the bonsai tree, carefully pinch off new shoots with your fingers or gently guide them to grow in the desired shape before they harden[source].

It is also crucial to pay attention to specific maintenance requirements and practices for different bonsai tree species. Some species may require a combination of pruning and pinching, while others might benefit more from one technique over the other[source]. As a general rule, learning the unique needs and care methods for your type of bonsai tree will help avoid potential harm and keep it healthy.

To further reduce the risk of leaf browning, ensure any cutting tools used for pruning are clean and sharp. This will allow for clean, precise cuts that reduce stress on the tree and minimize damage to surrounding foliage.

Reviving a Brown Bonsai Tree

Assessing the Damage

Begin by examining your bonsai tree’s leaves, branches, and roots for signs of damage. Brown leaves can indicate poor soil quality and nutrient deficiencies, such as a lack of iron, nitrogen, or magnesium (source). Also, check for root rot, which can cause browning leaves and a foul smell (source).

Recovery Techniques

Addressing the issues you’ve identified requires different recovery techniques. For nutrient deficiencies, improve soil quality by adding the required nutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (source). Be cautious when watering your tree as overwatering can lead to root rot, while underwatering can cause browning leaves; ensure the soil is consistently moist but not constantly wet (source).

If root rot is detected, remove the diseased roots and replace the soil. To prevent further occurrences, ensure proper drainage and avoid overwatering (source). Once your tree’s health starts to improve, maintain a proper watering and fertilizing schedule to ensure your bonsai tree remains vibrant and healthy.

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