Top 10 Reasons First-Time Bonsai Owners Fail (And How to Avoid Them!)

Bonsai trees are a beautiful and rewarding hobby for many enthusiasts. But, for first-time buyers, it can be a challenging journey. Many beginners struggle to keep their bonsai trees alive and healthy, which can be a source of disappointment and frustration.

In this post, we'll explore the top 10 reasons first-time bonsai buyers often fail at keeping their trees alive. We'll also provide expert tips on how to avoid these pitfalls and set yourself up for success with your very own bonsai tree.

Browning Juniper Bonsai


  1. Choosing the Wrong Tree

One of the most common mistakes beginners make is choosing the wrong tree. Considerations of where the tree will be placed (indoors/outdoors), how much light and air circulation is available are important factors to consider when choosing a tree.

Not all bonsai trees are suitable for beginners, and some species require more advanced care and attention. 

Expert Tip: Start with a hardy, low-maintenance tree like a juniper for outdoors, ficus, or jade for indoors to build your bonsai skills.

Specimen Juniper Bonsai

Although very commonly found and inexpensive, Junipers with patience and care make some of the most impressive Bonsai.


  1. Inadequate Watering

Under or overwatering is a common reason for bonsai tree failure. It's essential to understand the specific watering needs of your tree and adjust your watering routine accordingly.

Expert Tip: Always check the moisture level of the soil before watering, Bonsai cannot be watered on a schedule, factors such as the time of year, temperature, humidity, health of the tree and so much more. Have a direct effect on the amount of water needed. Best practice for first time bonsai owners is to know how moist or dry your tree likes it's soil. And only water when the substrate/soil reaches below ideal level for that tree. 



Watering a bonsai


  1. Poor Soil Quality

Bonsai trees require well-draining soil to thrive. Many first-time bonsai buyers make the mistake of using regular garden soil, which can lead to root rot and other issues.

Expert Tip: Invest in high-quality bonsai soil or create your own mix, combining ingredients like akadama, lava rock, and organic potting compost. Younger trees in development can be potted in a mixture of nutrient rich organic and in-organic substrates, usually at a 50/50 mix. Mature trees do better being planted solely in in-organic substrates, where their nutrient intake can be controlled by adding fertilizer. 

Mixture of substrates used in Bonsai


  1. Insufficient Lighting

Bonsai trees need adequate light to grow and remain healthy. Placing your tree in a dark corner or away from a natural light source can stunt its growth and weaken its health.

Expert Tip: Ensure your bonsai receives at least 6+ hours of bright, indirect sunlight each day. Rotate the tree occasionally to promote even growth. 


Schefflera Bonsai by a window

The Hawaiian Umbrella (shown above), is a great option for lower light or only indirect light indoor Bonsai. 


  1. Incorrect Pruning Techniques

Pruning is essential for maintaining the shape and health of your bonsai tree. However, improper pruning can damage the tree and hinder its growth. Many first time Bonsai owners tend to prune too often, not giving the tree time to recoup and push out sufficient new growth. When pruning your Bonsai for shape maintenance, make sure you let each branch grow at least two nodes longer than where you are planning on cutting. Only when the branch surpasses the desired length by two to three nodes, then prune. 

Expert Tip: Learn the correct pruning techniques for your specific tree species and always use sharp, clean tools to avoid infection and disease. Pruning for maintaining shape can be done year round. Pruning for reshaping or hard cuts, should only be done at proper times during the year, depending on the species. 

Lady pruning a bonsai


  1. Over-Fertilizing

While bonsai trees need nutrients to grow, too much fertilizer can lead to root burn and other issues. Over-fertilizing is a common mistake among first-time bonsai owners.

Expert Tip: Use a balanced, slow-release bonsai fertilizer and follow the recommended feeding schedule for your tree species.


  1. Neglecting Pest Control

Pests can wreak havoc on your bonsai tree if left unchecked. First-time bonsai owners often overlook the importance of regular pest inspections and control measures.

Expert Tip: Inspect your tree regularly for signs of pests and treat any infestations promptly with organic or chemical treatments, depending on the severity. Early detection makes any infestation easy to remedy. If you notice anything irregular on your Bonsai, a little research on Bonsai Nut or similar forums will provide you a wealth of knowledge and advice. 


  1. Ignoring Temperature and Humidity Requirements

Different bonsai tree species have specific temperature and humidity needs. First-time owners often fail to consider these requirements, leading to an unhealthy tree.

Expert Tip: Research the ideal temperature and humidity conditions for your tree species, and create a suitable environment. An easy way to decide the best temperature and humidity for your tree, will be based on where that tree originates from. Imitating it's natural environment will provide your Bonsai the best chance of thriving.


  1. Repotting at the Wrong Time

Repotting is crucial for maintaining the health of your bonsai tree, but doing it at the wrong time or too frequently can cause stress and damage.

Expert Tip: Learn the correct repotting schedule and technique for your tree species. In general, most bonsai trees should be repotted every 2-3 years, but this can vary depending on the species and age of the tree. Repotting does also not necessarily mean moving into a larger or even different pot. Every 2-3 years for younger trees and 3-5 years for older ones. Your Bonsai should be removed from its pot, all the soil/substrate should be removed form the roots gently, with as little damage to the roots as possible. Roots should be trimmed, dead roots removed, and then repotted in fresh substrate. 


  1. Lacking Patience 

Finally, one of the most common reasons first-time bonsai buyers fail is a lack of patience. Bonsai is an art form that requires time and a willingness to learn from mistakes.

Expert Tip: Embrace the process of learning and growing with your bonsai tree. Remember, even the most experienced bonsai artists encounter challenges and setbacks. The key is to stay committed and keep learning. Enjoy your Bonsai at every stage of it's development, as your living art keeps growing, evolving and changing, appreciate the journey. 


yellow flowers on a bonsai


Bonsai trees are a rewarding and fulfilling hobby, but they require some dedication and care. By understanding the most common reasons for failure among first-time bonsai buyers, you can avoid these pitfalls and set yourself up for success. Take the time to research your chosen tree species, provide proper care, and enjoy the process of nurturing your bonsai tree to its full potential.


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Trees absorb carbon dioxide, release oxygen, and help mitigate the effects of climate change.

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