Tree Murder Practioner

I need some horticulture help. Just started my first trees this year and struggling with keeping them healthy/alive. Bought a nursery juniper in early spring. In excitement of first tree I styled and repotted it in a couple weeks. It’s gradually browned all over. I’m sure my impatience is a big factor and possibly some over watering. I’m sure it’s dead, but I keep watering it and added some fertilizer mid summer. For my second tree I bought a Japanese Maple and a moisture tester. Repotted it a couple weeks ago, but aside from removing 2-3 dead branches did not touch the foliage. I think I did the reporting technique okay for the maple: straight akadama, removed all garden soil. (Left core of garden soil on the juniper and used mixed bonsai soil). It’s foliage browned and sagged fast. Still a touch of green here and there. Been diligent about using the moisture meter and only watering as it dries (which seems more often with the straight akadama). Did cover the soil of both with moss after repotting them.
I know patience is a problem. What else could I have done better? I watch a lot of videos and research, but still feel ignorant about general steps/timeline for working with nursery stock. Do I repot or style first? Wait a year between or how long? Did I take the trees into too small of pots at first and should have transitioned them to a medium pot first and preserved more root base? Appreciate any help or thoughts.

It appears that you may have learned that patience is critical in bonsai in two trees. Some of us still have not learned that after many trees. A couple of key points from my perspective.

  1. Repot in the spring as buds swell.
  2. Only one major operation per year - style or repot - not both.
    The exception to #2 is that you can do some cut back if the tree grows really strongly after a repot.

If trees are in development, Akadama is not used in your soil mix, this is used for trees in refinement.
The juniper- Repot or style, not both in a season.
The maple- Not a good time for a repot.
I would not call these a repot, more like a transfer into a bonsai container. which in my opinion was not a good choice. Less roots and a lot of foliage usually spells disaster.
Watering and fertilizer are not good for a struggling tree, especially fertilizer.


My first several junipers suffered from an excess of enthusiasm as well. I agree with above posters re: style or repot in a year, but not both. Try to time these operations so that they are done at the optimal season for your area.

I trimmed back new growth too often on my junipers resulting in lagging growth, and am now paying the price. They are still alive but are delayed w/r/t their peers. Cleanup periodically (removing crotch growth) is okay, but try to stay away from the scissors/pruning tools.

I put some maples I am trying to rehab into standard bonsai mix and they did okay, but now that it is time for a repot, am considering adding a little more akadama to the mix.


@MtBakerBonsai thanks for the insight. For new nursery stock material like these what soil mix would have been better? I always hear about reporting, but not transitioning to a bonsai pot. How can I handle that better next time? Is there an in between type of pot to use before putting them in a bonsai pot?

So with juniper more foliage is good for root recovery after a repot or transition into a bonsai pot, but with maple its good to reduce some foliage too?

You can try a grow box with pumice and an organic material like fir chips. I lean on straight pumice because it rains a lot here in the PNW. I do have to water more on dry days, but my trees never have “wet feet” My trees also develop beautiful root systems using pumice.
With deciduous species being high water moving species it would be okay to remove foliage, but know that timing will play a part. If done to early the tree will push new growth and the energy will be lost to producing new foliage instead of roots. There are many nuances to deciduous species, some take aggressive moves and some the opposite, being very delicate when handling.
I feel deciduous species do sometime surprise you come spring and push growth when you thought the tree had not made it through the winter.
:+1:t2: :christmas_tree: :metal:t2: :grimacing:


Believe others said it; you repotted the maple at the wrong time of year. Repot when new buds are just beginning to swell early Spring.

Best advice I can offer: Go back and watch all the beginner and fundamentals videos on the Mirai website. Consider a hands-on beginner class if you live near a bonsai nursery.

And don’t give up. We all learn from our mistakes


Appreciate it everyone. Hard to share the failure, but want to learn going forward.

Is there a bonsai club near you? if so I would definitely join. You’ll get lots of advice, a friendly welcome and you may get a cheap tree or two.


Moved the Maple into my garage and under a grow light on a timer to try and stabilize it. Little bit of hope as some green is returning to the foliage in the areas close to the base of the tree. Seems to stay damper out of the wind so removed the moss and trying to be cautious about overwatering.