My bonsai looks like the tree in the Peanuts xmas special
September 30, 2008 9:49 AM   Subscribe

Any clue what might be plaguing my outdoor Japanese red maple bonsai? Immediately upon receiving it from an online retailer, it started developing brown patches on the leaves, which then curled up and died. I've tried putting it in less sun, more sun, more water, less water. It is in partial shade on a porch with daily watering now. It is still alive (green when I scrape it a bit) with few leaves intact, but I am worried that I'm about to kill a thoughtful birthday present.
posted by *s to Home & Garden (6 answers total)
Maples are deciduous and lose their leaves during the cold season. It's very possible that your bonsai (which is not a special breed of maple but rather one that has been extensively pruned) has reacted to shipping conditions and the cooling weather by simply going into dormancy.

Do what you are doing now, cut back on the watering as we head into cold weather and wait 'til spring.
posted by jamaro at 10:14 AM on September 30, 2008

Thanks -- Does it matter that I live in a warm climate? Granted, it's about 10-15 degrees cooler than when I received the plant, but it's still plenty hot. I'm worried that the plant is a Yankee.
posted by *s at 10:18 AM on September 30, 2008

To be clearer: don't let your little tree dry out, even in winter, but as the weather gets colder you can safely switch from daily watering to every few days. The way to check if your bonsai's soil needs watering is to stick your finger in the hole in the bottom of the pot. The soil should feel moist.
posted by jamaro at 10:19 AM on September 30, 2008

Oops, on preview: no, the tree will adapt. Keeping it outdoors in a semi-shady location is the right thing to do, given their pruned down root systems and minimal soil they can't tolerate much heat. I can't count the number of these little guys I've seen dying on someone's desk next to the heater vents.
posted by jamaro at 10:21 AM on September 30, 2008

Another thought (egads and I apologize for the multiple comments in your post, I've switched to a French press for coffee which might be somewhat ill-advised considering it's scattering my thoughts all over), set the bonsai upon a humidity tray.

A humidity tray is simply a shallow pan or tray filled with a layer gravel or marbles. Top off your humidity tray with enough water to not quite cover the gravel/marbles, set your bonsai pot on top and now your little tree has a little microclime which will help buffer the local weather.
posted by jamaro at 10:27 AM on September 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

You may want to consider ordering either of the bonsai guides published by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. (Disclaimer: I am a member of the BBG, but not affiliated with the store.) They have a pretty healthy bonsai collection, so they must know what they're doing; and their guides are way cheap.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:25 AM on September 30, 2008

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