Chinese Elm growing and losing leaves

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Hi everyone! Sorry in advance about the long post, and I hope the images aren't too big.

I received a Chinese Elm as a gift last June. It's survived okayish until now, but recently this has happened:

  • As expected, it lost its leaves over the winter. This was in January (it lives on a windowsill indoors, which I know isn't the best place for a bonsai, but I wasn't sure if it was safe to suddenly move it outdoors during the winter months). The windowsill was quite cold and the tree had very little direct sunlight during this time, so I assumed this was normal behaviour for a deciduous plant.
  • When the weather (and hence the windowsill) warmed up slightly in February, a lot of new growth began to come in.
  • Being a bit of an idiot, I accidentally left the window open for a couple of hours one day in March. I think the shock of the cold air made all the leaves fall off again - it was probably too early for leaves to be growing anyway.
  • The leaves began to grow back, albeit more slowly.
  • I travelled abroad for a week, leaving the tree in the care of my family. I don't think they did anything differently from how I did (i.e. watering a little about every other day), but when I returned, the tree looked like this:





(I think the tree is badly in need of pruning, but I was going to wait until the new leaves grew in properly and stopped dying all the time to do that.)

Most of the dead dry leaves have actually detached from the tree, but they've stayed where they are because apparently a family of baby spiders has moved in and started weaving tiny webs all over the tree.



I think they're baby spiders, at least - I looked at a few under a magnifying glass, and they don't look like aphids or anything that would be directly harmful to the tree.

Since those photos were taken, I've removed just about all of the spiders and cleaned away the dead detached leaves (leaving a couple that were dead but still attached). With that and the loss of most of the healthier-looking growth from the first picture, the tree now looks pretty bare :(

So, I'm trying to work out how best to help this ailing tree. I had a couple of ideas for what could be wrong, but I really have no idea what I'm doing, so I'd like to ask for advice from people who actually do know! :D

  • I've read that the tree should probably be outside. Should I move him outside? If so, how and when should I do that to avoid extra shock?
  • I may be over- or under-watering the tree. When I water it, the soil at the surface is usually dryish, but the soil further below is sometimes a little moist.
  • When I'm not around, my room is noticeably cooler. I think this is because of my bad habit of leaving my computer on just about all day when I'm there, which warms up the room. Could the simple change in temperature be stressing the tree?
  • Might he need re-potting? A couple of the roots have started to grow out of one of the drainage holes in the current pot's base.
  • Could there be some sort of fungus involved? Some of the still-healthy leaves had brownish speckles on them:



Any advice at all to save my unfortunate Bonsai would be much appreciated. :)
 

JustinBoi

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I'm not sure if people will agree with me, but when my Chinese Elm started doing bad.
I removed EVERY SINGLE leaf that was on that tree.
Watered it once every 2 days.
Sprayed it with a soapy spray and let nature take it's course.
The spider's I might say are Red Spider Mites.
They are very small and red.
Google it if you think I'm right, if you got to get a good look at them.
 

mcpesq817

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Most of the dead dry leaves have actually detached from the tree, but they've stayed where they are because apparently a family of baby spiders has moved in and started weaving tiny webs all over the tree.

I think they're baby spiders, at least - I looked at a few under a magnifying glass, and they don't look like aphids or anything that would be directly harmful to the tree.
Um, they are probably spider mites, and potentially very harmful to your tree. You'll need to spray it to make sure you get rid of them all, as well as the eggs.
 

Bonsai Nut

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I'm not sure if people will agree with me, but when my Chinese Elm started doing bad.
I removed EVERY SINGLE leaf that was on that tree.
Watered it once every 2 days.
Sprayed it with a soapy spray and let nature take it's course.
The spider's I might say are Red Spider Mites.
They are very small and red.
Google it if you think I'm right, if you got to get a good look at them.
I agree with everything you say. I would:

(1) Trim all the leggy growth and thin out the branches.

(2) Remove any of the last few leaves.

(3) Spray for spider mites.

(4) Put a little ORGANIC fertilizer on the soil - make sure not to over-fertilize you just want a little.

(5) Place outside in the sun.

(6) Water regularly.
 

JustinBoi

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I hope I helped a little. Oh I forgot. The spray. The soap CANNOT BE detergent.
Use regular hand soap or .. Palmolive (what I use).
Concentrated dish liquid.
 

IdahoDR

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Was this tree an outdoor aclimated tree when you purchased it?

The spider mites arent helping, so deffinately get rid of them, but it appears to be stressed from being indoors all winter, and really not being used to indoors, doesnt know weather to go dormant or not. Sounds like it went dormant very breifly, and is now throwing new growth which is leggy due to lack of light.

As soon as risk of cold weather is gone, put it outside and let it stay there.
 

IdahoDR

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Also use the chopstick method for watering indoors untill you learn a necissary water cycle. There are plenty of articles detailing the chopstick method.
 
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Thanks for all the advice! :) The mites are actually off-white rather than red in colour, but a quick google search suggests that they aren't always bright red. (and it sounds like they explain the mysterious brown speckles and webbing on the leaves too)

IdahoDR: I'm not sure - I'll have to ask the person who gave the tree to me. And thanks for the chopstick method; that looks handy.

I'll follow the suggestions given by JustinBoi and Bonsai Nut, and probably update in a bit when/if the tree starts to recover. Thanks again for the help, everyone!
 

JustinBoi

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Your very welcome. That's what were here for! To give help and to get help. :)
I'm hoping everything goes well with your tree. Best of luck!
 
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