I have a 15 year old Chinese Elm which I bought last year in April and keep indoors. It is placed next to a window, but due to british weather it doesn’t get very strong light.

The bonsai survived very well for a few months until the end of the summer, when it then started losing its leaves out of season. That time, the problem was spider mites, and the bonsai only recovered from them after a few months. It only started growing new leaves at the top of the tree, and very few of them.

A few months later, those leaves fell off with no signs of drying up or yellowing, and soon later even the branches were dying, and I realised the problem now was overwatering. I didn’t know that the soil the bonsai came with retained so much water, and since it is my first bonsai, I didn’t know how to check the soil properly before watering, so I just arbitrarily watered it once a week (but always drained it as much as I could).

Now I got the tree repotted with new soil which drains the water much better, and I am very careful to only water it when the soil is slightly moist. I am not feeding it with bonsai feed since the tree is struggling. It’s been over 6 weeks since the repotting, and the bonsai is still not growing new leaves. The branches that were dying that I had pruned to the point where they were still green underneath, are now still continuing to slowly die closer and closer to the trunk.

Am I still doing something wrong? Is there anything else I can do to try and revive my bonsai properly? Do I actually still have to wait even longer for the new leaves to grow? The tree was even getting more sun than usual in the past week, but it didn’t seem to make a difference.

NOTE: the tree is actually still alive since if I scratch the bark it is bright green underneath, however it is simply not growing new shoots or new leaves.

This is the state of the bonsai before being repotted and pruned, when it had only very few leaves at the top which did not change colour before they fell out. Bonsai before repotting and pruning, when it had very few leaves at the top.

Bonsai 6 weeks after repotting and pruning, with new draining soil. Bonsai 6 weeks after repotting and pruning, with new draining soil.

  • Do you have the possibility to put in outdoors? Indoor is extremely difficult, only for professionals that know what they are doing. – benn May 12 '18 at 9:49
  • I can come up with many reasons why the tree is stressed: not enough light (window facing South?), bugs (spider mites is a sign of dry air), no dormant cold period in winter (do you heat the room in winter/), no fertilizer, etc. To many possible causes, indoor is very difficult, I would keep a Chinese elm outside, and only take it indoors when temperatures are extreme (freezing) cold. – benn May 12 '18 at 9:53
  • The bonsai gets the most light in the morning for a few hours next to the window it's currently at. If I did put it outdoors, since my garden is shared with the whole flat block, due to the location of my flat it would get even less light since it would be close to a really high hedge which obstructs the light for almost the whole day. Would it still be worth putting outside in these light conditions? – neradha May 12 '18 at 9:59
  • A healthy bonsai needs a lot of light, ideally garden facing South, but East or West would also work out. In your situation you have only shade in your garden, that's not an option. Like I said earlier, indoor is very difficult, not only because of the amount of light, do you fertilize it often? – benn May 12 '18 at 10:12
  • I used to fertilise it before winter once every two weeks, then as the instructions said I should stop until march, then I started fertilising it again but when the tree was struggling a lot I stopped since the person at the bonsai nursery said not to feed it when it's stressed. Should I instead start feeding it again? – neradha May 12 '18 at 10:14

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