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I'm a bonsai beginner; I purchased a 15-year-old tea tree 2 weeks ago. It began losing a few leaves each day since. I keep it by a window and keep the soil damp. Today I turned it 180 degrees and noticed the window-facing side looked much healthier. Small white flowers have been blossoming over the last 5 days.

Any explanation as to why the leaves are dropping off and is this natural or is the tree looking not-too-healthy?

I just read http://www.bonsaiboy.com/catalog/fukiencare.html. Should I try moving it outdoors until it gets colder?

Thanks.

Edit: I'm in Billings, MT. Temperatures have been 55-95 this summer.

side facing sun side facing away from sun

  • by tea tree you mean Camellia sinenesis, or Melaleuca Spp? because neither one is going to survive outside for a Billings winter - it will have to find a place inside sometime ... – Grady Player Aug 3 '13 at 17:47
  • I'm not sure which it is, but I'll make sure to bring it in when the temperature drops. – devth Aug 4 '13 at 20:25
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My father in law taught me there are three things a bonsai needs in order to be happy: sunlight, water and wind. The problem with keeping a bonsai indoors is that it suffers when it comes to those three things.

Peoples perception of bonsai are skewed because of the media where they see film or pictures of bonsai inside. Bonsai can be displayed inside, but this is usually done for a brief period of time. For example, when you have guests coming and you want to show off your plant, but then it should be moved outside again.

In terms of hardiness, my father in law's attitude was that if it couldn't take the scorching heat or survive in the snow the plant wasn't going to be hardy enough to last several lifetimes. You may be more cautious about looking after your plants, I know some people do winter their plants, but the approach is to place them inside a wintering box or greenhouse outdoors. Not to bring them indoors for the winter.

Secondary to environment issues, I would be concerned about the roots rotting, which can happen when bonsai are kept indoors because evaporation happens much slower indoors and the soil can stay damp for extended periods of time. Although, after two weeks I guess this is not the case here.

It looks like the plant has some flowers. This indicates to me that the plant was very healthy up until recently. Typically if the plant is in shock or dying it won't go to the effort to make flowers at the same time it is dropping leaves.

My suggestion is to move it outdoors where it is getting a reasonable amount of sunlight and follow a good watering routine. I suggest putting it somewhere partly shaded because you may scorch it going from being indoors to directly out in the sun.

Hopefully it will stop dropping leaves and settle in to its new position. I wouldn't expect it to start growing leaves again until early Fall. There are typically two growth spurts Spring and Fall and if a plant has gone into shock, they usually will not regrow a large number of leaves until one of these periods.

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    Thank you. I moved it outside yesterday morning and it hasn't dropped many leaves since. – devth Aug 1 '13 at 22:59
  • On returning to this I disagree with a number of points, which are potentially misleading: 1) requirement for 'wind' is non-existent In very humid, very still conditions, mould can develop, but that's a very borderline issue in reality. 2) Evaporation happens faster indoors (in most climates), as the air itself is drier, this can be proved from base principles by looking at a psychrometric chart. – DaveRGP Jul 12 '16 at 15:07
  • I ended up killing this bonsai. Then I got another one as a gift. It too died. They were both expensive. 😢 I think Montana is not the best place for bonsai - at least you need to know what you're doing to keep one alive. – devth Dec 17 '18 at 15:09
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If a otherwise healthy tree is dropping leaves when moved inside, and not from a normal seasonal transition It is likely a pest issue. Second most likely is temperature issue.

Your bonsai is a tropical, and should be 'ever green' (I recognise the species, but can't remember the name). It will not have an 'autumn`. In the house you can have trouble with 'spider mites'. These are microscopic aphid like creatures, and live inside, with us in our homes. They die outside, in more humid, colder weather. They will latch onto any sugar source and reproduce voraciously. Given enough time this manifests visibily as tiny white 'dust' on the leave and occasionally thread type fluff.

Possible solutions: move it outdoors, embark on the use of pesticides (specific chemical aerosol sprays are best)

The other possibility is temperature. This species is prone to 'go into shock' in the uk due to temperature difference. This will also knock it's leaves off. It needs to be kept warm ish, and also n a more humid atmosphere than the typical house.

This is a recurring issue with uk bonsai and asian species:

Our houses are warm, but arid in comparison to the normal environment for the species.

Our outdoors are more humid, but colder. So asian tropical species are at risk of cold and frost damage.

To be more constructive, I would recommend an outdoor greenhouse for this species, and dedicated watering. In very cold snaps use a fleece to cover.

I would also recommend that bonsai is a detailed and precise art to practice, and that as well as the 'accepted teachings' you have to be able to assess things objectively, and refine your technique based on the environment you are working in.

If you were to go for any indoor species, I would always recommend ficus and ulmus parvifolia (tropical fig/rubber plant and chinese elm respectively) over all else.

I would also recommend that you pursue bonsai outdoors if at all possible, with uk compatible species. Primarily japanese maple (acer palmatum), chinese elm again (super tolerant species), any and all pines, and also any UK species you can get your hands on (field maple, birch, ash are all pretty good bets).

Remember, bonsai is an asian rooted art, but your trees won't be growing in asia.

Finally, the best place for advice is a dedicated bonsai seller, or your local bonsai meetup/group.

If you are near any major uk city, you should be able to find one.

Best of luck.

edit: apologies, writing in a rush and thought you said uk. Still, the general advice applies.

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From the photos, I assume you are keeping the soil adequately watered, so your assumption about a lack of sunlight is probably correct. Let us know where you live and we can probably provide a better answer as to if your outdoor climate is appropriate.

  • Billings, MT (added to original question above). – devth Jul 29 '13 at 15:26
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Perhaps you need to repot it. I have a Cussonia bonsai that was losing leaves. Apparently the roots grew so much that there was no space to suck the water. Repoting it, with trimming the excessive roots, helped my bonsai to revitalize.

It's a 15 years old bonsai - how long was it in the current pot?

  • It's likely that trimming the roots didn't so much 'make room' as 'shorten transport distance'. Consider the roots like a road, it's far slower to take every road through each suburb to get to the centre of the city than it is to take a direct mainline spur of the motorway. – DaveRGP Jul 12 '16 at 15:08
  • I don't know how long it was in that pot. I bought it when it was already 15 years old. – devth Dec 17 '18 at 15:10

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