Please help with this Natal plum

Andrew R.

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Hello-

I am new to bonsai and I would greatly appreciate some help with this tree. I bought this Natal plum from easternleaf.com about a month and a half ago and it is not looking so great these days. It is dropping leaves like crazy and the ones that don't drop appear to be curled and brownish. I have been following the watering instructions that came with the tree, so I've been watering every few days or so, when the soil starts to dry slightly. I also mist the tree every few days. The tree gets a lot of sunlight in an Eastern facing window in my third (top) floor apartment. I am a bit perplexed because the tree does appear to have some new growth. Does anyone have any ideas that could help me save this tree? I am super thankful in advance.

Andrew
 

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JosephCooper

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First, take the rocks off of the top of the soil.

My best guess is that you either have a root problem or the tree is dropping old leaves and making way for new ones which would explain why there is new growth.
 

Andrew R.

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I was thinking that too and actually asked the seller about that but they said it was a Natal plum.
 

Tiki

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Well at any rate, both require kind of the same care. I second the previous statement. Id pull it out of that pot "gently" and if its black and smells like a gutter...probably the culprit. A rinse off of the old soil and replacement with something better draining could do wonders. Better draining means youll have to water more often but the inverse is it sits in stagnant anaerobic soil where mold and fungus grows and your tree dont.
 

Tiki

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Looking at your pics again. I do see new growth at the tips..keep doing what your doing at the moment and if things dont improve in about a week Id take action.
 

Leo in N E Illinois

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You window looks bright enough, so light or the lack of light is not the problem.

You have only had it 6 weeks, did it look okay when you received it? If not, the problem started with the grower.

Leaves look wilted, and the brown patches could be a fungal or bacterial disease. The fungal or bacterial problem is likely a secondary problem, that took advantage of the primary reason for the plant being in trouble. You should feel the soil daily to determine if it needs water that day. Feel it now, if dry, you have been underwatering. If wet, you have been overwatering. Worst case is alternating between the two. Dried out hard, kills roots, reducing the tree's ability to take up water. Follow the drought with excess water, and fungi or bacteria can invade through the dead root tips. At this stage fungicide or bactricide is not likely to be successful, but changing the way you water might do the trick.

Your tree looks like it was a mass production tree with a less than ideal soil.

Watering a bonsai is a difficult for even advanced growers to do correctly all the time, so I'm going to offer some advice.

First take off the layer of aquarium pebbles, throw them out. Look at the soil underneath the pebbles, note if it is fine dirt like the peat mixes used for house plants or if it is more gravel like, or like grit. Stick your fingers in, below the surface, I usually dig in to the first knuckle of my finger. If moist, no water needed, check again in 24 hours. If barely damp or dry, then it's time to water. Take tree to a sink and flood the tree with water, make sure every corner of the pot is wet, water should be running through. No dry pockets in the pot. Set pot on drain board to drain, when it stops dripping, return it to the window.

Throw out your watering can if you had been using it to water your tree, because water only dribbles straight down and out and does not wick through the soil, leaving dry spots that damaged roots.

Then continue checking daily with your finger until the tree needs water again. The schedule will change depending on humidity, temperature, sun or clouds, it should vary how often you need to water. No set schedule ever works.

If you are lucky, in a few weeks there should be new growth, and the leaves with the brown patches should dry and fall off.

It may be too late, but you should give it a try.
 

Andrew R.

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Ok thanks for your help. I'm staring at my tree and pics of Sageretia Theezans and they appear to be nearly identical to me.
 

Leo in N E Illinois

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Each time you check to see if it needs water, notice the heft, the weight of the tree. Dry pot & tree will be very light, wet pot and tree will be heavy. In a week or two you will be able to tell if it needs water without looking, the weight of the tree in your hand will tell you.
 

Leo in N E Illinois

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It does appear to be Sageretia.

You will eventually want to get bonsai potting media, either make your own or purchase pre mixed. Buy a blend for deciduous trees, slightly higher organic components. This summer repot the tree to the new mix. Wait until it is growing well before repotting. Do it June or July.
 

Carol 83

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I am pretty new at this myself, but that is not a Natal Plum. I actually have one that came from the same place. It's pretty much my first tree. I had it for a year or so, maybe more before I joined here. The leaves are more waxy. They are very low maintenance trees, as long as you don't over water. But that is not one. Sorry, was typing as Leo was responding.
 

Andrew R.

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Thanks everyone. I'm gonna sneak in a question here: Are Sageretia Theezans as hardy as Carissa macrocarpa?
 

Leo in N E Illinois

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No, the Sageretia is sensitive to frost. Actually natal plum is frost tender also.

Natal plum comes from an environment where it can be quite dry, and it will survive dry spells quite well. Large bushes can survive weeks without water, the small ones we use for bonsai would look like hell, maybe even die, if you dried them out that long. Natal plum will survive full blazing hit summer sun.

Sageretia comes from Taiwan, and adjacent areas of China, where it is always humid, either humid and hot, or humid damp and cold, but always above freezing. Sageretia will not tolerate drying out, first drought can be fatal. Hot sun can be a problem, keep it in afternoon shade during heat of the summer.
 

rockm

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Thanks everyone. I'm gonna sneak in a question here: Are Sageretia Theezans as hardy as Carissa macrocarpa?
Natal plum, as said, isn't as cold sensitive, but it isn't a temperate zone tree. Frost and especially freezing will do very bad things to natal plum. FWIW, natal plum is native to South Africa, hardy in zones 10 and 11, possibly lower if you protect it from winter.

My mom had a huge natal plum bonsai for years, 3 ft tall, 3 inch diameter trunk. Kept it in full sun in Texas, it bloomed and fruited regularly. She brought it inside for the winter beginning in late October and stored it next to the glass sliding door where it stayed warm and mostly kept its leaves. She did that for 25 years or so--until a damn squirrel chewed through the trunk in an afternoon. I HATE those rodents...
 

pweifan

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I would be crushed to lose a tree after 25 years to one miserable squirrel.
 

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