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One of the things that I really struggled with at the start of my bonsai journey was the constant insect infestation I had. I was keeping my bonsai indoors, and so it was common for aphids, whiteflies, scale, and spider mites to infest my bonsai on a regular basis. Luckily I found a few solutions to remove bugs from my bonsai trees.
Rub your bonsai tree thoroughly with a solution of 1 cup of 70% rubbing alcohol, with 30oz of water to remove any bugs from your bonsai tree. Insecticide and pesticides can be used to further remove pests. Consider using neem oil, garlic, or essential oils as a natural alternative.
Now bear in mind that individual bugs may require specific action in order to remove them. So which bugs cause the most damage to your bonsai tree, and how exactly can you remove the likes of scale, aphids, or even slugs and snails? Keep reading to find out more.
A lot of you reading this post are just getting started with bonsai. You can find my recommendation for the best bonsai I found here (link takes you to Easternleaf) or the best faux bonsai here (link takes you to Amazon)
How to get rid of bugs on a bonsai tree?
Like death and taxes, getting bugs on a bonsai tree is an almost inevitable part of maintaining bonsai trees.
It seems like every summer, there is a new infestation of insects and creepy crawlies trying to undo all the hard work you might have done during the warm summer months.
Luckily there are a few ways to remove bugs from your bonsai trees below – these include:
- Using a solution of rubbing alcohol and water
- Using rubbing alcohol and cotton wool
- Using neem oil
- Using pesticides and insecticides
- Using garlic
- Using essential oils
- Using water bags
- Using diatamouse earth
- Using vinegar
- Water blasting
- Parasitic wasps and insects
- Manually removing the bugs
Now each of these will have varying degrees of success depending on the type of insect you are trying to battle but they are the most universal methods used in removing insects from bonsai.
Let’s explore each of these individually below:
How to use rubbing alcohol and water to get rid of bugs on bonsai tree?
So the first method I like to use to remove bugs from my bonsai is probably one of the most common methods.
It’s super effective and works pretty much for any bug infestation, and what’s even better is that the majority of the items can be found in your house!
Use rubbing alcohol to remove bugs from your bonsai by doing the following:
- Move your bonsai away from the other trees in your collection.
- Get 1 cup of 70% rubbing alcohol
- Fill up a bowl with 30oz of water
- Get one tablespoon of liquid soap
- Mix these items together in a bowl
- Once mixed pour into a spray nozzle
- Spray your bonsai thoroughly, in all the hard to reach areas – your bonsai should be dripping wet
- Once completed let your bonsai soak for 24 hours
- The rubbing alcohol and soap should kill off most of the bugs, however, if you find that there are still a few, you can repeat this process two or three times.
How to use rubbing alcohol and cotton wool?
So like the other method outlined above, this method also uses rubbing alcohol.
We are however going to have to be a little bit more forceful with this method.
You see whilst rubbing alcohol, water, and liquid spray works, sometimes getting into the hard-to-reach areas of your bonsai can be tough.
WithiInsects and bugs, we are looking to get rid of being so small sometimes this method works better.
To use cotton wool and rubbing alcohol to get rid of bugs from your bonsai:
- Pour 70% rubbing alcohol into a cotton ball
- Using this cotton ball, rub down each individual leaf, branch, and twig of your bonsai as well as all the hard to reach areas such as the underside of leaves
- Target the bugs directly that are easy to spot
- Once completed, pour rubbing alcohol into a cotton swab to get into all the nooks of your plant which will be a lot easier than using a cotton ball
- Finish off by pouring the rubbing alcohol into a paper towel and wipe down the side of your plant pot which can be a breeding ground for insect eggs.
Can you use neem oil to get rid of bugs on a bonsai tree?
Neem oil is one of the most effective solutions for removing pests like spider mites from bonsai trees. To use, apply a few drops of neem oil onto a cotton ball or swab and scrub the bonsai including all the hard-to-reach areas.
Once your pests have been removed ensure you wash your bonsai to remove any excess neem oil.
Now I found that neem oil is one of the most effective ways of dealing with pests.
What’s even better is that it is a rare pesticide that is 100% natural, so much so that it has been recognized by the likes of the EPA as a pesticide that does not cause any adverse effects in humans.
Neem oil is also OMRI listed, which is an accrediting body in the USA that lists only organic produce.
Now whilst neem oil is incredibly effective against pests such as spider mites or fruit flies, you can rest assured that it won’t harm so-called good bugs like bees.
Some top tips then for using neem oil would be as follows:
- Apply neem oil after sunset, as it can cause your plant to overheat if you do so
- Opt for a brand that is 100% organic, at around 70% concentration
- Ensure your neem oil contains Azadirachtin which is the active ingredient found in neem trees.
Now if you are interested in my recommendation for neem oil it would have to be the Harris Neem Oil (link takes you to Amazon) which has been 100% cold-pressed and is super easy to mix.
Use pesticides and insecticides
Now whilst pesticides and insecticides aren’t the most popular or natural options to use when removing bugs from bonsai trees; they are super effective.
Like most pesticides and insecticides, these work by poisoning bugs that are wreaking havoc on your bonsai by releasing enzymes that affect the nervous system of bugs.
Most of which contain Organophosphates which are thoroughly regulated once again by the Epa to ensure that they are safe for use by people.
When choosing a chemical pesticide, I would opt for one containing one of the following chemicals:
Now you’re also going to want to ensure you take the following precautions when using pesticides as some can cause significant issues such as skin rash:
- Ensure you wear thick gloves and a mask when using pesticides.
- Once sprayed ensure you are not present in the same room if treating your plant indoors.
- Follow the instructions exactly as dictated on your bottle – different pesticides need to be used in different ways.
- Air out any rooms thoroughly before going back into the room used for spraying your bonsai.
- Take your clothes off and wash them thoroughly once you have used the pesticide or insecticide.
- Wash your hands thoroughly after spraying.
Now whilst traditional insecticides and pesticides are effective, in my opinion, natural insecticides like neem oil work much better without any adverse effects on people.
Neem oil is the best natural pesticide you can use for bonsai. Neem oil stops larvae and egg development as well as inhibits your pests from mating. Once washed off, neem oil also benefits any fungal root issues that are common in bonsai.
How to use garlic to get rid of bugs from a bonsai tree?
So surprisingly, a common household item you can use that is super effective against bugs on your bonsai is everyday household garlic.
Garlic seems to be particularly effective against aphids and planting some garden garlic near your bonsai works best.
Alternatively, if you don’t have space or room, consider planting individual cloves of garlic which act as a natural repellent. Simply place them in your topsoil.
Whilst it might not kill any bugs it will stop them from making your bonsai your home.
Another good alternative would be garlic sprays, to use simply mix your garlic spray with water and then spray onto the bugs directly.
Once completed, make sure you wipe down your bonsai.
So to summarize:
Planting garlic, using garlic cloves, or mixing garlic sprays and water is an incredibly effective way of repelling bugs and mainly aphids away from your bonsai. Once your pest problem has been dealt with, make sure you remove the garlic.
Using essential oils to get rid of bugs on bonsai trees
Another fantastic option to remove bugs from your bonsai tree is to use things like essential oils.
Certain oils like rosemary or lavender have both been found to be particularly effective against bugs like whiteflies – just be sure to avoid spraying these types of essential oils on the root of your bonsai as it may dry it out.
So what exactly are some essential oils you should use to help get rid of bugs from your bonsai.
I found the following to be the most effective:
For a full list of essential oils that work, check out this post on essential oils from remote working warriors which I found to be super useful.
To apply essential oils to kills your bonsai, apply 9 drops of your oil with one cup of water in a spray bottle. Spray your bonsai leaves where your bugs reside and once removed, ensure you wipe away any excess oil.
Using waterbags to remove pests from bonsai
Unlike humans, elephants, and some birds, insects do not actually know they are insects.
Certain bugs than such as common houseflies are scared of their own reflection and so filling up a clear bag (I found a sandwich bag works best) full of water, tying a knot on the top, and leaving this hanging around your tree will help scare any potential pests away.
Manually removing bugs
This isn’t an easy job, especially if your bonsai is in the middle of a full-on infestation but is another natural method that if you get right can be super effective.
Using a pair of tweezers, preferably one that you have sterilized, gently pick off or tap the leaves of your bonsai that have insects nesting on them.
I found the technique of getting a scrap piece of paper underneath your bugs and gently tapping the leaves as they fall in to be the most effective. You can then use the tweezers for any hard-to-reach bugs.
How to use diatamouse earth to remove bugs from bonsai trees?
Another fantastic option to get rid of bugs naturally from your bonsai trees is to invest in diatamouse earth.
To use diatamouse earth to remove bugs from your bonsai, mix one-part diatamouse earth with 3 to 4 parts water. Mix into a spray bottle and shake well before use. Spray your bugs with the solution until the water evaporates and leaves behind the earth. Leave for a few weeks.
Diatamouse earth, works as pest control for bonsai by absorbing the waxy layer found in insect exoskeletons, absorbing lipids, and killing bugs. It does this by following Ficks Law of Diffusion.
How to use vinegar for pests on bonsai?
Another fantastic natural option to remove bugs and pests from your bonsai tree is to use white wine or apple cider vinegar – the more acidity the better. This acid in the vinegar should kill mosts bugs instantly
Mix 1 cup of vinegar with 1 cup of water in a spray bottle. Shake thoroughly and then spray your bonsai to remove any unwanted pests or bugs from your plant. White wine or apple cider vinegar tend to work best.
Water blasting to remove bugs
Easily the option that is going to be the messiest but the most fun is to water blast your bonsai to remove bugs from them.
I found this to be particularly effective against the like of scale, which can be notoriously difficult to remove.
This works then by literally blasting the bugs off your bonsai with a high-power jet wash.
To use water blasting to remove bugs from your bonsai, place your bonsai outside away from your other plants. Using a pressure washer, blast your plant thoroughly until all visible signs of bugs have disappeared. Wait for your plant to dry and repeat if needed.
A typical household use pressure washers working best for this but for my money there is no better option out there than the Sun Joe SPX3000 ( link takes you to Amazon) – it comes with a guarantee but also doesn’t have enough pressure that it will demolish your bonsai.
How to use parasitic insects to remove bugs from bonsai?
When I learned about this method, I thought someone was actually joking with me.
I mean how exactly is putting more bugs in your bonsai going to help with removing the existing bugs that are there?
The truth is insects such as ladybugs or wasps eat other insects and can be beneficial for pest control.
Bugs like aphids or mites are commonly eaten by the likes of ladybugs and so keeping one or two of these near your bonsai can work wonders.
Just ensure that you keep these ladybugs fed well and you won’t have to worry about them eating your bonsai.
Now if ladybugs aren’t for you I found that investing in the likes of predatory mites like phytoseiulus persimilis or wasps can be super effective.
What is the best method to remove bugs from bonsai?
The best method to remove bugs on your bonsai would be to use a mixture of neem oil in a cotton ball. Simply rub the affected leaves with neem oil and the bugs should die. Another fantastic option is to use a mixture of soapy water and rubbing alcohol which is also effective against most household pests.
What bugs impact bonsai trees the most?
So we have talked a lot about how to protect your bonsai from pests but we haven’t really covered the types of pests that are most commonly attracted to bonsai trees.
After all, before we remove the bugs that are affecting our bonsai collections, it’s important we understand exactly what type of bugs are affecting our bonsai trees.
So what bugs tend to impact bonsai trees the most?
Aphids, Whiteflies, Spider Mites, Scale, and Fungus Gnats are all bugs that tend to be attracted to bonsai trees the most, with most species suffering from these insect infestations at some point.
It’s also not uncommon for fruit flies, ants, slugs, snails, and worms to also infect bonsai particularly if they are outdoors.
To help explain more, I’ve put together a table explaining what type of bugs tend to attack bonsai trees as well as where they tend to attack them.
|Bug-type||Where to find them|
|Aphids||Under large leaves leaves|
|Ants||Topsoil and plant pots|
|Fungus Gnats||Soil and leaves|
|Spider mites||Leaves and Branches|
|Scale||Leaves and leaf underside|
|Slugs||Branches and soil|
|Snails||Branches and soil|
|Whiteflies||Leaves and Branches|
Now whilst most of the methods we’ve laid out above can remove these bugs to help further explain how to tackle these individually, let’s explore these below:
How to remove Aphids from bonsai trees?
Aphids are the tiny green and whiteflies that we see flying around usually in summer months, think about those annoying flies that you tend to flick when you get them on your clothes.
Bonsai with dense leaves make the perfect breeding and grazing ground for these pests, and will likely be the most common ranging in color from white, brown, and of course, green that everyone is all too familiar with.
To remove aphids from bonsai trees, mix a solution of one to two tablespoons of liquid soap with 30 oz of water. Pour into a spray bottle and spray the aphids directly. This acts like a natural insecticide that is incredibly effective.
Ensure once this has been done that you regularly check your bonsai for signs of aphid infestation as this bug is notorious for coming back during the warm summer months.
Now a few things to note using this method to remove aphids from your bonsai:
- Ensure you test on one leaf first as some species might not like any form of chemical on them
- Remove your bonsai tree from others in your collection if you have an aphid infestation – the last thing you want is to pass the bugs from one plant to another
- Ensure you spray your solution everywhere – not just on the aphids but all over your plant thoroughly coating it – this will get rid of the plants from all the hard to reach areas
- Ensure you wipe your bonsai tree down once completed to dry your plant – A dry towel works best for this.
How to remove ants from your bonsai tree?
Now a bug that not a lot of people talk about but that can be particularly frustrating in the summer months to deal with for bonsai owners are ants.
You see while ants aren’t generally attracted to bonsai, they are attracted to the honeydew that other bugs like whiteflies leave behind.
Very rarely will it be just one or two ants affecting your plant it will be a whole swarm that can take the leaves or nutrients from your plants back to their hive or even worse, starts a mini hive in your bonsai soil!
To remove ants from your bonsai, remove whiteflies first. Mix a solution of one to two tablespoons of liquid soap with 30 oz of water. Pour into a spray bottle and spray the ants directly. Mixing a few drops of neem oil into a spray bottle and spraying your bonsai is also effective against ants.
Now ants typically don’t come alone when attacking your bonsai but also like to attract the likes of whiteflies so using things like sticky traps, neem oil or the soapy solution we talked about above are the most effective methods of removing ants.
How to remove whiteflies from bonsai tree
Easily one of the toughest bugs you will have to remove from your bonsai will be whiteflies.
I can’t think of a single bonsai owner who has not had to deal with these at one stage or another.
To remove whiteflies from your bonsai, cut off any affected leaves with whiteflies on them. They spray your plant thoroughly with two tablespoons of liquid soap with 30oz of water. Leave to dry and then wipe down with neem oil.
A few top tips to follow to remove whiteflies from your bonsai include:
- Make sure you move your affected plant away from others in your collection – These bugs move fast so as soon as you notice, get rid of them
- Make sure you check your bonsai weekly in the summer months – these bugs breed fast and are very common
- Make sure you check under the leaves – this is where a lot of the eggs tend to live or bugs tend to get shade in the summer.
- Consider investing in predatory species – while using neem oil or soapy liquid are both effective methods, one of the best things you can do to get any lagging whiteflies disposed of is to use ladybugs, Chalcid wasps, or other insects that eat these bugs naturally – particularly effective if you keep your bonsai outdoors instead of indoors.
Whiteflies on bonsai
Whiteflies are tiny white bugs that fly when disturb. More often than not they tend to reside on your plant’s leaves, eating the valuable nutrients in your plant leaves.
They tend to appear like white triangles on the leaves of your plant and also have the nasty habit of living underneath your bonsai leaves hiding from predators.
Similar to aphids they eat the nutrients from your plant leaves and within 16 days can be fully grown which means constant vigilance is needed when dealing with these bugs.
What’s even worse is that in the right condition (say like a bonsai tree kept indoors in a warm climate), these bugs can produce thousands of eggs making it difficult to manage.
Why you need to remove whiteflies
Whiteflies leave a honeydew secretion on your plant. This can attract other types of bugs like ants or if left unchecked can cover your bonsai in mold, stopping them from photosynthesizing.
It’s no exaggeration then to say that failure to deal with whiteflies will kill your bonsai.
How to remove fungus gnats from bonsai trees?
Fungus gnats (also knowns as Sciariad Flies) are a common insect that affects many different horticultural activities. They typically affect plants year-round, especially if you keep your bonsai indoors.
The main way in which these effects bonsai is through the soil – you see these pests lay eggs and when they hatch their worm-like offspring can run rout and cause significant damage to your tree.
To remove fungus gnats from your bonsai, ensure you replace and change your soil, both in your plant pot and your bonsai roots, regularly. Once your pot has been emptied, you must wash it thoroughly with soapy water to remove any trace of fungus gnats.
Another brilliant option that works to remove Fungus Gnats is to bake your soil.
This works by heating your over to 158 degrees Fahrenheit and then in a glass, clay, or oven-proof container, baking your soil.
Some top tips to follow are:
- Ensure your soil is no more than 4 inches deep
- Moisten the soil with a light spray but not so much that it is damp to the touch
- Remove any clumps of soil or debris that has ended up in your soil
- Bake for no more than 30 minutes and 158 degrees Fahrenheit
- Cover with a top layer of aluminum foil
- When removing your soil pot cover with a thick layer of dry towels to gradually cool them down.
How to remove spider mites from your bonsai tree?
Spider mites are one of the most challenging pests any bonsai owner has to face and with good reason, leaving these pests alone can wreak havoc on your plant, essentially killing the progress you’ve made with your tree.
The good news is that there are multiple methods to help remove spider mites. The best of which I’ve listed below:
Fill a spray bottle with 30 ounces of water and 1 tablespoon of anti-bacterial liquid soap. Spray your bonsai thoroughly to remove spider mites. To prevent future outbreaks, inspect your bonsai for signs regularly and consider investing in insecticide and neem oil.
Now I’ve also written an entire blog post specifically talking about how to get rid of spider mites in more depth that you can check out here.
How to remove scale from your bonsai tree?
Now scale is tricky because people don’t actually recognize it as a bug.
A lot of people think it might just be dirt or fungus that is growing in your bonsai but the truth is these little white/brown spots are a type of mite that loves to stick to the underside of your bonsai leaves and needs to be removed.
To remove scale from your bonsai tree, observe the plant for infestation, wipe the stems, branches, leaves, and all hard-to-reach areas with rubbing alcohol in a cotton ball/swab. Then mix a solution of 70% rubbing alcohol with 30 oz of water and a few drops of soap and spray your bonsai heavily.
Now I’ve written an entire blog post talking all about this once again which you can check out here.
How to remove slugs and snails from your bonsai?
Another massive problem that bonsai owners have, especially if you keep your plants outside are slugs and snails.
These mollusks can reak havoc on the soil of your plants, dragging along fungus that comes from the mucus they secrete.
What’s even worse is if your bonsai species bear fruit, these pests love to eat leaves and can easily ruin all the hard work you’ve done in a matter of weeks.
To remove slugs and snails from your bonsai, wrap copper wire around the trunk of your bonsai where it connects to the topsoil. Ensure this is a few inches high and slugs snails and other mollusks will no longer attack your tree.
Copper reacts with these types of pests, affecting their nervous system ensuring they won’t travel any higher up your tree.
A great video that covers exactly how to do this can be found below:
How to remove worms from bonsai trees?
Worms on bonsai are most commonly the larvae and offspring of other insects that attack your bonsai, most commonly Fungus Gnats.
To remove worms or larvae from your bonsai, ensure you replace and change your soil, both in your plant pot and your bonsai roots, regularly. Once your pot has been emptied, you must wash it thoroughly with soapy water to remove any trace of the pests.
What do the experts say about removing bugs from your bonsai?
So whilst all the above methods listed to get rid of the various bugs and pests we’ve talked about in this article, I wanted to ensure I didn’t just give my opinion but give a few other experts advice on how to remove insects from bonsai.
As such, I called up three local garden centers and asked them how to remove insects and pests from Bonsai trees.
Here’s what they had to say:
“I think the best thing to do to remove any insect infestation on any plant is just to wash with soapy water – it’s what we do and works well for our own Japanese bonsai collection” – Birmingham Botanical Gardens
“A good pesticide or insecticide works best – I’d recommend a brand like growing success for slug killer or Provanto for bug killer” – Homebase Birmingham
“A good mix of rubbing alcohol and soapy water would be my recommendation to remove pests from bonsai trees” Dobbies Garden Centres
Where do bugs on bonsai trees tend to live?
Bugs on bonsai tend to reside on top and underneath the leaves, especially in plants with dense thick canopy. Most bugs will also lay their eggs in the topsoil of your plant or in any bumps or cracks in your plant pots.
It’s important when testing your plant for bugs that you ensure you use things like cotton swabs which have an easy time getting into these hard-to-reach areas as a way to ensure you remove all bugs.
Why does my bonsai tree have bugs?
Keeping bonsais outdoors or not checking them, pruning them or watering them regularly can lead to an increased chance of bonsai infestation. If you keep more than one bonsai tree, it is also much more likely you will increase the chances of getting an insect infestation.
Bug infestations on bonsai are a normal part of keeping bonsai trees. It happens in the warm summer months as insects start to go through their lifecycles.
What happens if you do not get rid of bugs on bonsai trees?
Failure to remove bugs and pests from your bonsai can result in the death of your plant. A lot of bugs such as whiteflies secrete honeydew on your bonsai which not only attracts other bugs, but causes fungal infections which can slow down and eventually stop photosynthesis from taking place.
Bugs can also get rid of all the hard work you have done pruning your plant to look exactly as you want, often by eating the leaves and branches of your tree.
What species of bonsai get the most bugs?
Chinese elms, Junipers, and Japanese maple are all prone to have bonsai infestations more commonly than some other species. This is often caused by the transportation of these trees and plants as well as the fact these plants have many leaves.
Anyone who has kept multiple species of plants for bonsai knows that almost all plants will get an insect infestation at one point or another.
I have found however that certain species do tend to get insect infestations more commonly the others.
Sadly, a lot of the species that get infected regularly are some of the most common species but to help the following list should help:
- Chinese elm
- Japanese maple
- Ficus retusa
- Fig tree
- Snow rose
- Dwarf pomegranate
- Hornbeam and beech
- Oak, magnolia stellata
- Flame tree
- Acer buergerianum
- Weeping fig
- Money tree
- Serissa foetida
What are some universal methods that get rid of bugs from bonsai trees?
Using neem oil, mixing rubbing alcohol and water into a spray, investing in insecticides, or manually removing pests and insects are the most universal methods used to get rid of bugs from bonsai trees.
What are some natural methods that can help get rid of bugs?
Using Neem oil, planting garlic, spraying essential oils, or investing in parasitic bugs such as ladybirds are all-natural methods used to remove bugs from bonsai trees and other horticulture activities. Neem oil, in particular, is very robust working against almost any type of intrusive insect.
Now a lot of you are in the process of starting your bonsai journey like I was not too long ago. if this is the case with you. i;d recommend reading the following posts:
This post was written by Fehed Nicass who has been passionate about bonsai for over 2 years. He currently resides in the UK and works in sales.