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Is My Bonsai Dead Or Dormant? [Tree Status Guide]

Bonsai can impress anyone with their miniature beauty but sometimes, caring for them becomes very challenging as they confuse you with dead and dormant situations.

Generally, the dead bonsai has no sign of life and changes the leaves and bark color, leans back, and does not respond to stimuli. In contrast, dormant bonsai only slows down the growth, stays firm, and continues growing in the next growing season.

You must pay attention to the leaf color, arrangements of the branch, and bud development to know if your bonsai is dead or dormant.

So, go through this full article to know detailed information about dead and dormant bonsai and your bonsai’s condition.

Signs Of A  Dead Bonsai

The major thing you will notice on your dead bonsai is the excessive leaves falling. You need to worry if your bonsai is losing its leaves even during the growing season.

Dead vs dormant bonsai
You cannot recover dead bonsai but still save if it’s dying.

Not only the leaves, the branches and twigs of your bonsai will unnaturally lean and fall apart. However, there are several other symptoms of dead bonsai.

  • If your bonsai is dead, you won’t see any new growths like budding, flowering, etc.
  • Also, the green and flexible leaves will turn brown and brittle over time in the absence of moisture.
  • Similarly, the new buds before death turn back and shrivel.
  • If you smell the potting soil, you will notice a foul and unpleasant smell.
  • White patches in potting soil and excessive pest activities is also a sign of dying bonsai.
  • Your bonsai won’t respond to external stimuli like wounds, scratches, etc.
  • Additionally, your bonsai will fail to recover even after you provide it with proper care and treatment.

It is not possible to recover a dead bonsai but balanced watering, sunlight, temperature, well-draining soil, etc., can help a dying bonsai recover.

Signs Of A Dormant Bonsai

Unlike dead bonsai, dormant ones do not have a foul or unpleasant smell on the potting soil. Moreover, you won’t see any fungal patches in the potting soil.

Additionally, if the tree is wounded or scratched, it responds during the growing season. Nevertheless, the dormant bonsai can confuse you with dead with the following symptoms:

  • If the bonsai is deciduous, it will shed almost all leaves during fall and winter.
  • Also, the leaves’ color will change during the dormancy period.
  • You will notice very slow growth and new leaves or shoot production will stop to reserve energy.
  • Unlike dead bonsai, leaves of dormant bonsai contain moisture and retain healthy shape and color.
  • The bark color changes to dark or reddish depending on the species.
  • You will see no budding or tight and closed buds that only open during the growing season.
  • The branches remain firm and healthy.
  • A healthy dormant bonsai contains no visible signs of pests and diseases.

Even if your dormant bonsai looks dead due to the unpleasant conditions, it will eventually recover in the growing season.

How To Overwinter Dormant Bonsai

Overwintering the dormant bonsai is vital to keep the plant healthy during the freezing winter. Otherwise, it will be very difficult for the tiny tree to survive.

  • Place your bonsai tree indoors during the freezing winters. If you cannot shift the tree, provide frost blankets to protect it from cold.
  • Cover the upper surface of the soil with organic mulch to retain moisture during hot temperatures.
  • Never water or fertilize your bonsai for faster growth during dormancy. Always water to keep the soil moist.
  • Make sure there is no leftover fertilizer in the soil as it can damage the plant.
  • During dormancy, bonsai become weak and susceptible to pests and diseases. 
  • Do not prune or disturb the tree during dormancy.

Regular monitoring is necessary to maintain bonsai health until the growing season arrives. Consult with a bonsai expert if the problem persists further.

From Editorial Team

Additional Tips!

To maintain the proper health of your bonsai tree, take the pictures timely. This will help you to track the progress and changes in your tree over time.

It’s also vital to research the specific needs of your bonsai tree as different species have different requirements. Also, remember that bonsai goes through a longer dormancy period compared to other plants.