Please help with weak privet bonsai, with a possible fungal infection

HeroAKKD

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Hi everyone,

I would like to ask you all for advice on how to save my bonsai tree. I have this tree for the past three years and I believe that this is a privet bonsai tree that is approximately 13 years old. As this was my first bonsai tree, initially I did not know how to take care of it. For the first year, I was alternating between over watering and under watering the tree. I believe that this had then made all the branches loose their leaves. Firstly one entire branch, then a second and so on. As I was very inexperienced, I thought that it would be a good idea to repot the bonsai and prune its roots (as there were signs of root rot). After the reporting, many new shoots started growing out of the bonsai (this was about a year ago), but no leaves grew on the old branches... I still do not understand why this happened?

Then I have actually cut off the majority of the old branches and allowed some of the thicker new shoots to take their place. My reasoning behind this was that there was no use of branches to the bonsai without many leaves. For some time the bonsai appeared to be doing very well. It had many leaves, and the shoots that took place of the branches became thicker and thicker. However, I believe that I was still not watering properly and all the leaves once again we're gone.

Recently, I have started reading about bonsai and have met people that give me good advice. To monitor my watering, I now have a stick in the soil which I feel every day. I only water if the stick is nearly completely dry. I have started doing this about a month ago. Since then, some new shoots started to grow which you can see on the photographs. Some leaves even started growing on the old "branches" (which are not the original ones which I removed). But now, I have another problem. Initially, new leaves look health. After a week or two, they become as if "soggy/weak" and a mark appears on them which you can see on one of the photos. Then, yet after another week, the leaves appear to dry out completely and fall off. I also have a photo of the dried leaves. I really do not know what I am doing wrong and how I could save my bonsai. I also do not want to experiment with it so I would really appreciate some advice on what I am doing wrong and what I should do. One last thing is that I am not using a fertiliser for some time now as the bonsai is not healthy.

I have also attached some photos of my bonsai :) . The first two photos (hero 6 and 9) show what it looks like in general and that it is very weak as it barely has any leaves. The next photo (hero 5) shows what new leaves look like for about 1-2 weeks and I think they look healthy. The next two photos (hero 2 and 1) show what I meant by "soggy/weak" and what the mark looks like. The next photo (hero 3) shows how the leaves die as if because they had dried. The very last photo just shows some of the bonsai's leaves.

Thanks for your time taken to read this and for any advice you have. I am really keen to learn! Any comments are much appreciated

Hero6.jpghero9.jpgHero5.jpghero2.jpghero1.jpgHero3.jpghero8.jpg!
 

Leo in N E Illinois

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I need to congratulate you, for consistent care. You have had this tree 3 years now, it started having trouble right away. You have managed to keep it from expiring for a full three years, in what seemed a downward spiral. That actually is good growing skills, in that you are being consistent. Excellent.

Your tree needs more of something, my guess would be that it needs much more light. Are you able to put this tree outdoors for the summer? I think it could use direct sun. If you can not put it in direct sun outdoors perhaps additional artificial lights. If you do move it out into direct sun, step it into part shade first, then two weeks later step it into full sun.

The reality is the privet is normally an outdoor tree, often used as a landscape shrub. It survives indoors but rarely thrives. Often sold as indoor bonsai for the mass market, expecting the trees to last just long enough that they can deny you a refund.

The main thing I see wrong with your tree is not enough light. So that is all I would do, is increase the amount of light it gets.
 

HeroAKKD

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I need to congratulate you, for consistent care. You have had this tree 3 years now, it started having trouble right away. You have managed to keep it from expiring for a full three years, in what seemed a downward spiral. That actually is good growing skills, in that you are being consistent. Excellent.

Your tree needs more of something, my guess would be that it needs much more light. Are you able to put this tree outdoors for the summer? I think it could use direct sun. If you can not put it in direct sun outdoors perhaps additional artificial lights. If you do move it out into direct sun, step it into part shade first, then two weeks later step it into full sun.

The reality is the privet is normally an outdoor tree, often used as a landscape shrub. It survives indoors but rarely thrives. Often sold as indoor bonsai for the mass market, expecting the trees to last just long enough that they can deny you a refund.

The main thing I see wrong with your tree is not enough light. So that is all I would do, is increase the amount of light it gets.

Sadly, I live in a block and will not be able to put it outside for the summer. However, right now it is on my desk and I can still put it on the window cill where it should receive more light :) My only concern is if I should do it now? It is still quiet cold in London, and especially very close to the window, and I do not want the colder temperature to have a negative influence on the bonsai. Also, do you know what the marks on the leaves could be? It is loosing more and more of its leaves every day and it barely has any.

Thanks for your reply!
 

Shibui

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Marks on the leaves appear to be fungal infection. It is common in trees under stress and trees inside. Sunlight is a good antidote to many fungal infections.
Privet is very, very hardy which probably explains why it is still alive. London cold should not hurt a privet. They can cope with well below freezing. Please put it closer to the window so it gets some sunshine. More sun often means more water evaporates so keep a closer eye on the soil moisture levels for a while. You may need to water more often. just water the soil for a while. Fungus loves damp leaves so watering the leaves can encourage fungal infection.
You could try a fungicide to stop the current infection but it will probably just return unless you address the causes.
Better light levels - more sun or a grow light.
Adequate watering.
Regular fertiliser.
Cross fingers and hope.
 

BuckeyeOne

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I'm curious as to the soil the plant is in? It looks like just plain old dirt!!
It may be too late, but a more open and free draining soil may help. Depending on what is available in your area, a mix of pumice, lava, akadama, granite fines or other media would work. This will aid in the under/over watering situation.
The current soil may not drain freely enough which will contribute to a environment for fungi to thrive. Your comment as to the root rot confirms this.
I'm sure others will chime in as to the strength of the tree not up to a repot at this time, but I'm not sure it will recover in the current soil.
 

Zach Smith

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Privet, like most species, will do best outdoors and is not "made" to thrive indoors. You're essentially fighting a losing battle. Get yourself a ficus if you want to continue in bonsai and have some success keeping your trees indoors.
 

HeroAKKD

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Marks on the leaves appear to be fungal infection. It is common in trees under stress and trees inside. Sunlight is a good antidote to many fungal infections.
Privet is very, very hardy which probably explains why it is still alive. London cold should not hurt a privet. They can cope with well below freezing. Please put it closer to the window so it gets some sunshine. More sun often means more water evaporates so keep a closer eye on the soil moisture levels for a while. You may need to water more often. just water the soil for a while. Fungus loves damp leaves so watering the leaves can encourage fungal infection.
You could try a fungicide to stop the current infection but it will probably just return unless you address the causes.
Better light levels - more sun or a grow light.
Adequate watering.
Regular fertiliser.
Cross fingers and hope.
Thanks for the reply, I will put it right by the window today and will keep a close eye on the moisture level using the wooden stick! I will also try to avoid getting any water on the leaves.

Is there any fungicide you would recommend that I could ideally buy online? I am thinking of trying to use the fungicide and to put the bonsai on the window cill in order to try to strengthen the tree :)

As for using the fertiliser, I was once told that I should not use it if a tree is week. How often do you think I should be using it? Also, should I be using them throughout the year? When I get home, I could give you the exact names of the fertilisers which I have.

Once again, thanks!
 

HeroAKKD

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I'm curious as to the soil the plant is in? It looks like just plain old dirt!!
It may be too late, but a more open and free draining soil may help. Depending on what is available in your area, a mix of pumice, lava, akadama, granite fines or other media would work. This will aid in the under/over watering situation.
The current soil may not drain freely enough which will contribute to a environment for fungi to thrive. Your comment as to the root rot confirms this.
I'm sure others will chime in as to the strength of the tree not up to a repot at this time, but I'm not sure it will recover in the current soil.

Thanks for your reply. The initial soil was very dense as the bonsai was from a nursery. For reporting I have used the soil which can be seen under this link https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bonsai-Foc...36&hvtargid=pla-388195016543&psc=1&th=1&psc=1 . I have repotted the bonsai about 1-2 years ago.
 

HeroAKKD

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Privet, like most species, will do best outdoors and is not "made" to thrive indoors. You're essentially fighting a losing battle. Get yourself a ficus if you want to continue in bonsai and have some success keeping your trees indoors.
The problem is that I have no were to place the bonsai outdoor and yet I really like bonsai. I already have a Ficus and a Chinese Elm as well :) But I really would not want to give up on my Privet :)
 

rockm

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The fungal infection is probably a secondary problem and not the cause of the wilt.

The soil you have this in is very poor from what I can see in the photo. It's probably holding on to a lot of water in the interior root mass, or is completely dry. Mucky soil, when it dries out, basically turns to cement and will shed water instead of absorbing it. That means, possibly, even though you're watering the tree when needed, it's simply running off and not soaking into the soil.

The living shoots are dying off because the roots are compromised (symptoms of overwatering and underwatering are pretty similar, since they both kill off roots, which can't push water to leaves). The fungal growth is an advantageous infection on dying tissue--it's most likely a side effect from other more profound issues with the roots.

This tree is not going to survive inside. There is really no way to save it if it can't be outside. Not enough light, bad soil, and fiercely dry air inside are all going to kill it, probably in the coming couple of months. That's harsh, I know, but realistic.

Tropical plants, such as ficus, and schefflera, are mostly the only species that can survive inside for more than a few years...
 

Zach Smith

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The problem is that I have no were to place the bonsai outdoor and yet I really like bonsai. I already have a Ficus and a Chinese Elm as well :) But I really would not want to give up on my Privet :)
I hear you. I've been growing privet as bonsai for 30 years, and I'd never expect one to survive for long indoors. They're just not built that way. You should do fine with your ficus, and Chinese elm are much more agreeable to indoor culture than privet (though they, too, prefer to be outdoors if at all possible).
 

BuckeyeOne

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If I read the contents of the Bonsai Focus Mix, they state it contains all fine materials (Peat, sand, bark).
This is not what I would refer to as a free-draining soil. Too many fines!
I would advise a more coarse mix. 4-6mm particle size is a common size used.

This is a comment from the Amazon reviews of the product.
"The blend is mostly peat with some sand and gravel. This blend quickly compacts within just a few waterings and does not provide anywhere near enough drainage for adequate bonsai care. The amount of peat alone will cause a lot of problems for the roots of a bonsai tree."
 

rockm

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If there is peat in the mix, the interior is most likely a dried out hunk of cement. Once dried out, peat moss fines are extremely difficult to re-wet. It sheds water like a duck's back when dry.
 

HeroAKKD

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As mentioned above, the soil I used is https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bonsai-Foc...36&hvtargid=pla-388195016543&psc=1&th=1&psc=1. As BuckeyeOne had mentioned the soil does not sound as a free-draining soil. So should I repot the bonsai using a different soil even in the state the bonsai is in? If so, is there any soil you would recommend in particular? And should I forget about the fungicide for now?
 

BuckeyeOne

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As I mentioned before, try and find a source for lava, pumice, akadama and granite fines about 4-6mm. Mix in equal portions.
Check with others in your area for suppliers. Many of these components are available on Amazon here in the states. I don't know in your area.
Someone else better than I can answer as to the timing in its current state of health as to repotting. I'd say go for it. It's already dying.
The fungicide I use is Daconil. Again, don't know if it's available in your area. You definitely need to treat it for fungal presence.

Lastly, It is an outdoor tree!! Trying to keep it indoors is a effort in futility.
 

rockm

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As mentioned above, the soil I used is https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bonsai-Foc...36&hvtargid=pla-388195016543&psc=1&th=1&psc=1. As BuckeyeOne had mentioned the soil does not sound as a free-draining soil. So should I repot the bonsai using a different soil even in the state the bonsai is in? If so, is there any soil you would recommend in particular? And should I forget about the fungicide for now?
I watched the video from that link. that soil is a death sentence for most anything it's used on. Far too much peat moss and other fine particles. BuckeyeOne's advice is solid. An emergency repotting into better soil MAY help. But if the tree remains inside, that improvement, if any, will be temporary.
 

HeroAKKD

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Thanks for your replies everyone. So in conclusion, I should report the privet in a mixture of lava, pumice, akadama and granite fines of about 4-6mm size and then put it on the window cill so it gets more light. I can also try using a fungicide but I need to firstly solve the cause of the problem before doing so?

Also, one of the replies mentioned fertilizing the tree. Should I do so when it is weak? If yes, do I fertalize throughout the entire year or only during certain seasons?

As for being kept inside, you think that it is pointless? And even if I manage to bring the bonsai back to a healthier state, then with time, it will become worse? I am very surprised and sad as it was sold to me as an indoor bonsai.
 

rockm

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Thanks for your replies everyone. So in conclusion, I should report the privet in a mixture of lava, pumice, akadama and granite fines of about 4-6mm size and then put it on the window cill so it gets more light. I can also try using a fungicide but I need to firstly solve the cause of the problem before doing so?

Also, one of the replies mentioned fertilizing the tree. Should I do so when it is weak? If yes, do I fertalize throughout the entire year or only during certain seasons?

As for being kept inside, you think that it is pointless? And even if I manage to bring the bonsai back to a healthier state, then with time, it will become worse? I am very surprised and sad as it was sold to me as an indoor bonsai.
Unfortunately, some vendors who sell a lot of this kind of bonsai have absolutely no idea how to care for them. Also, it's a sales thing. People WANT to believe they can keep a bonsai inside. It is VERY hard to do and most plants like this die. Of course, that could mean return business for the original seller. People believe THEY were responsible for the death and not the dishonest/ignorant vendor...

If this were mine, I'd skip the repotting expense. And invest in another tree that can actually live inside. At some point here, you're throwing good money after bad.
 

HeroAKKD

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If I was to put the bonsai outside, how should I do so? Should I take it put it out each day for some time, and gradually increase the time that it is outside? Also, before doing so, should I repot the bonsai? I really do not want to give up on it :)
 
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Thoroughly read the above and understand the fundamentals of what makes a good container soil.
 

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