Chinese Elm Bonsai Tree

The Chinese elm bonsai tree is a favorite of growers everywhere.  It is especially popular with beginners.  It's fast growing and 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.

In this photo of a very old 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 still a little shedding, which is normal.

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

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.

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

Elm ForestChinese Elm Forest located at
National Bonsai & Penjing Museum
Washington D.C.

Forest plantings are just one of the many uses for elms.

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.

"Dancing Lady"

While they are young, they can easily be wired into curved shapes and are suited to many bonsai styles.

Many bonsai growers like to expose the long roots, as seen in this tree, to create the neagari style.

This tree was selected from a batch of early imports in the 1980s.  The leaves are especially small.  In the beginning, it had many more “legs.”  In a short time, we learned how drastically you can prune a Chinese Elm bonsai. 
Many of the existing roots were removed to create the “Dancing Lady.”  Today, it is the very good care of Johnson Teh, Miami, FL

Easy Chinese Elm Bonsai Care

This plant prefers to be evenly moist, but it is tolerant of occasional “too much” or “too little” water.   

It likes the sun, and with good light it will grow 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.

In good environments, elm roots grow quickly and will most likely need to be pruned every year or two. 

Frequent pruning of new branches will make your elm fuller.  Long scraggly branches detract from a bonsai shape and are not attractive.

Where to Go From Here

In addition to Chinese Elm bonsai see more Beginner Bonsai trees

Home Page

Bonsai Mary no longer publishes her Bonsai Banter blog, please enjoy these

 Back Issues

   Do you have a     phony bonsai?

   Free eBook     Click below: