Chinese Elm Bonsai Tree

The Chinese elm bonsai tree is a favorite of bonsai growers everywhere. It is especially popular with beginners, because it's so easy to care for.

Although the trunk develops slowly in a container, the branches grow very quickly.

Frequent trimming of the branches creates beautiful ramification.

Many different styles can be created through pruning, with little effort.

Another plus is they can be either indoor bonsai, outdoors, or a little of both.

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In this photo of a very old Chinese elm bonsai, you can see the beautiful ramification created by many years of pruning.

Many people grow them indoors in winter and out in the spring and summer.

Most imported Chinese elm bonsai have been grown in a warm climate (southern China). Although it can acclimate to winters outdoors, it's not a good idea to leave it outdoors during its first winter in a cold climate.

Elm is considered a deciduous tree. (When grown indoors and/or in warm climates, it is likely to hold its leaves through the winter.)

Sometimes there is a little shedding, which is normal.

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What's the Difference between
Chinese Elm and Japanese Elm (Zelkova)?


They do look similar. The answer to this frequently asked question, comes from British bonsai artist, Harry Harrington.

Ulmus species and in particular Ulmus parvifolia/Chinese Elm are very often confused with Zelkova species in particular Zelkova serrata/Japanese Elm.

Zelkova are classed as a seperate genus to Ulmus as they have fruits that are unwinged – as opposed to the winged fruits of Ulmus.

Zelkova also differ in that they have single-toothed leaves whereas Ulmus have double-toothed leaves.”














Chinese Elm Imports

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Many imported Chinese elm bonsai are not of the best quality as far as styling goes.

This import has a heavy trunk but questionable branch placement.

Buy your tree for the trunk, remove any branches that don't work in your design.

They will quickly be replaced with new growth.

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Air layering an unwanted branch is a good way to add another elm to your collection.

This very “curvy” import became two very good bonsai starters.

The left side is the original tree.

An air layer (covered in foil) has been placed on a good branch to use as a new a short, fat, informal upright.

New elm plants are easily grown from cuttings and air layers.

Even pieces of elm root, can be grown into bonsai!

Spring and early summer are the best times to try these techniques. 

Styles for Chinese Elm Bonsai

The roots of this tree tend to be very long and are perfect for root over rock and exposed root style.

When grown from cuttings, the trunks are most often straight and make good upright trees. While they are young, they can easily be wired into curved shapes and are suited to many bonsai styles..

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The Dancing Lady

Many bonsai growers like to expose the long roots as seen in this tree.

I selected this tree out a batch of early imports in the 1980s.

I especially liked the very small leaves.

In the beginning, it had many more “legs”.

In a short time, I learned how drastic you can prune a Chinese Elm bonsai.

I removed many of the existing roots to create what I call the “Dancing Lady.”

Today, it is the very good care of Johnson Teh, Miami, FL

(Thanks for the photo JT)


Easy Chinese Elm Bonsai Care

This plant prefers to be evenly moist, but it is tolerant of occasional “too much” or “too little” water (if in fast draining soil.)

It also likes some sun, but tolerates good light indoors.

The bonsai elm has very few pests. However . . .

Aphids on new growth are likely, especially in spring. A good spray from a garden hose can often resolve this minor problem, if caught early.

Black spots on leaves are the first sign of a fungus that seems to like elm. Poor soil can cause an environment for fungus. Fast draining soil is important.

Roots grow quickly and will need to be checked (and most likely pruned) annually.  This fast growing root asset makes elms good for rock plantings.

Where to Go From Here


In addition to Chinese Elm bonsai see more Beginner Bonsai trees

and other Types of Bonsai pages.




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