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3 Reasons Why Your Bonsai Tree So Brittle

After years of work, finding that your bonsai has become brittle can be quite upsetting. 

Yet, rest assured, there are ways to counteract this issue. 

Three major complications cause a bonsai tree to turn brittle: under-watering, over-watering, and being heavily rootbound. 

If your bonsai seems to be snapping too easily, you should find out which of these problems your tree has. 

And if your bonsai tree seems to be very brittle, you will need to take action to resolve the issue because it indicates that there is something very wrong with the tree. 

If you don’t do anything about it, the problem may worsen, and the tree could die.

In this article, we’ll explore why bonsais become brittle and what you can do to return your tree to health. 

3 Reasons a Bonsai Can Become Brittle 

Reason One: Underwatering

If your bonsai is not getting enough to drink, its stems and leaves will dry out and become brittle, just like any other dry material.

The water you supply is what gives the plant its flexibility and lets it bend rather than snap. 

Thus, if your tree is not getting enough water, its stems and leaves will become delicate.

This problem will often happen quite slowly, so you may not notice it at first. 

But, if you don’t give your tree a drink for days, it will run out of moisture to supply to its stems and leaves, and they will start to become dry.

You may notice that the outer twigs, which will often dehydrate first, start to snap if you touch them. 

The leaves may also turn limp and floppy.

You will need to rectify this situation by giving your bonsai a good, long drink.

To do this, you should stand your bonsai tree in a pot of water for about five or ten minutes.

The soil will gradually soak up the water, drawing it up into the pot and making it accessible to the bonsai tree’s roots.

The roots will then drink up the water and start supplying it to the plant, which should soon solve the brittleness issue.

Then, once the bonsai tree has had a good soak, carefully stand it on its side to allow it to drain a little. 

Afterward, put it back in its usual position.

Hopefully, you will observe that the twigs have become less brittle and are bendier in the coming days.

It may take a little while for the tree to supply water to all of its parts, but as bonsai trees are so small, it shouldn’t take too long. 

You may even notice a difference in just a couple of hours.

Reason Two: Overwatering 

If too little water can cause brittleness, it may seem surprising that too much water can do the same.

However, over-watering a plant often produces the same results as under-watering it because your plant’s roots will start to rot if they stay in water for too long.

And if the roots rot, your bonsai can’t take up water properly. 

The plant will therefore become thirsty, even though it theoretically has plenty to drink.

Thus, you need to be careful not to over-water your bonsai because of this problem.

Yet, if you have given your tree too much water and are concerned about root rot, you will need to remove the tree from its current container, being careful not to snap the brittle branches.

Next, tip the plant out of the pot and wash the roots.

After this, you should inspect the roots.

Any roots that have turned mushy and brown have begun to rot, and you will have to remove them to help the plant recover.

To do this, you need to use some sharp, sterile scissors to cut off the rotten roots, and then give the bonsai another wash and allow it to dry out for a couple of hours.

When the roots have dried some, you can re-pot the tree into some new material (do not use the same potting medium).

Just make sure you wash the pot out well if you are going to reuse the container. 

You should also fill your pot with plenty of drainage material such as fine gravel or sand.

These steps will reduce the risk of root rot occurring again, which could be a disaster for your tree.

Now, re-pot your bonsai in the clean potting medium and put it back in its former position. 

Your plant will hopefully start to regain its strength, although it may be several weeks before your bonsai is back to normal.

Root rot can quite easily kill a plant, so take fast action if you realize you have over-watered your bonsai tree and it is turning brittle.

Reason Three: Your Bonsai Is Rootbound

A rootbound tree will often suffer from brittleness, and this issue also happens because the tree doesn’t have enough access to water.

If your bonsai’s container has too many packed in roots and there is little space for the growing medium, the water will run straight through the pot and out of the drainage holes.

This occurrence will leave your plant thirsty because there will be no water for the roots in your container.

And although you should keep a bonsai in cramped conditions to prevent it from growing too large, it should not be so cramped that there is no growing medium to absorb water and release it back to the roots.

Overall, you can usually tell that a bonsai is too crowded if the water runs straight out of the pot when you give it a drink. 

Or if the roots protrude from the soil or are densely packed and coiled around each other.

If this happens, you will need to trim your bonsai’s roots and re-pot it. 

So, start by tipping the tree out of its container, trim off up to a third of its roots if necessary, and find a more suitable pot with some fresh growing medium.

Then, make sure you water the tree once it is in a new container, as it will be thirsty.

In the following days, the brittleness should begin to disappear as the tree absorbs water and rehydrates its leaves and branches.


Bonsai trees usually turn brittle because they lack water. 

However, it’s essential to check if your plant just needs a drink or if something else is going on – such as over-watering or crowded conditions.

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