Buying A Chinese Elm Bonsai On Amazon

When you type “bonsai” into Amazon I can guarantee you are going to see a load of bonsai seed kits and Chinese elms bonsais.

Growing your bonsai form a seed kits is cool, but they take a very long time. The Chinese elms are fully grown “bonsai” ready for you to enjoy.

So should you buy one of these bonsai?   No… but yeah.

They are good trees and absolutely ideal for bonsai, but what you’re buying on Amazon isn’t quite “bonsai”.

They might look like they are, but you will actually need to put a lot of corrective work into them, but I definitely think you should get one.

(If you have bought one and its looking like it is unwell, you should read – Chinese Elm Bonsai Is Dying? – How To Save It)

How To Buy A Bonsai Tree From Amazon

When you are looking through the listings on Amazon, you will have to evaluate a few things to make sure you buy the right bonsai tree. The following points are things you should be considering before you purchase your bonsai.

There Are Different Shapes

Usually you will find two main shapes of Chinese elm bonsai on Amazon – The ‘S’ shaped trunk or the Broom style bonsai.

It doesn’t really matter what one you pick. I prefer the broom style, but the S shaped is often seen by beginners as “more” bonsai like.

You might end up seeing a load of  people saying the ‘S’ shape isn’t bonsai and is terrible, but the way I see it is, if you like it, get it.

It’s your bonsai tree. If you like the shape of it, then that is all that matters.

There Are Different Size

They will often be sold by size. Sometimes they might be by age, but I wouldn’t fully trust that. I’d look at the actual size proportions and just check you are happy with this.

Look At The Seller

This is same advice for buying anything on Amazon, pick a seller with good reviews and who seems legit.

There Are Different Prices

Most of the prices are fairly similar and correlate to the size.

Just look at the various listings and see what you feel most happy with.

I have noticed that some of the sellers may be on other sites, such as ebay and the prices can slightly vary across sites.

You may also see the same trees on actual bonsai websites. Strangely they seem to be more expensive there, even though they are the exact same trees.  

Just check it all out and go for what you’re happy with.

(You can read more about – Why Bonsai Trees Are Expensive)

What Are The Positives and Negatives Of Buying A Chinese Elm Bonsai On Amazon?

I will just go through some of the good and bad things about buying these bonsai.

Negatives Of Buying A Chinese Elm Bonsai On Amazon?

I will start with the negatives as these are certainly not perfect.

They are Labelled As Indoor Trees

This is one of the biggest reasons why these trees die. These trees need to be outside. They are extremely hardy and can handle being outside all year round in most places. You can grow these inside, but you really need to know what you’re doing, which most beginners do not, and this is why they run into trouble. 

Chinese Elm Bonsai Are Mass Produced

These trees are mass produced and you can tell. They are all very similar and they just have the feel that they have not had any love put into them. There is no individuality, which is good as you can now add this!   

They Are Growing In Awful Soil

These trees come in some of the most terrible soil I have ever seen. It’s just 100% coco peat. It is not good for the tree long term and it’s obviously used as it’s very cheap and easy to deal with. 

The Roots on a Chinese Elm Bonsai are Awful

The roots are awful. Literally the worst roots imaginable. They are so far from what bonsai roots should be it’s almost a crime that these are sold as “bonsai”.  This is from my own personal experience as well as watching a number of videos on youtube of people repotting these trees.  

It’s often said that as these trees are massed produced, they just kind of stuff them into the pots and sell them. I have no idea how true this is, but I from what seen this feels is very accurate.

Chinese Elm Bonsai have Bad Branch Structure

The branch structure is questionable, arguably nonexistent. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of branches, they are just not placed in any sort of order.

In the broom style trees they are just all over the place and often emerging all from the same spot.  I found that they will have been bent to fill in areas where there is no branching. This is a normal bonsai technique, so it’s not that strange.

However, when you consider how easy it is to grow a branch on an elm, you should not be just bending foliage to fill in areas, if you take the time to grow this tree correctly you can have a far superior branch structure.

I haven’t owned an S shape tree, but from pictures, some of the angles that the branches are placed at when coming off the main trunk, just looks awful.

This again all just comes down to the trees being mass produced, you can see the speed at which they have been made and the individual lack of attention and love is fairly obvious.   

What are The Bonsai Pots Like?

Pretty much all of these trees comes in a generic blue bonsai pot.

I don’t mind the blue colour, I actually have a few blue pots.

However, the quality of the pots is quite low. It’s more of a glazed terracotta. There is nothing wrong with this, it functions fully as intended but when you end up getting more expensive bonsai pots you will see the vast difference in quality. 

When you look at the price of the overall tree with the pot, it’s more than fair for what you get.

I have seen people try to sell these pots on ebay basically for the same price as with the tree. I am guessing their tree died and they are trying to recoup the cost of the tree by selling the pot for the same price.

Unsure Where The Trees Are Stored Before Sale

I feel like this isn’t actually a problem, but it kind of is. Basically we have no idea where these trees are being kept before we buy them. I believe they are often kept in greenhouses, as they always seem to turn up looking super lush and vibrant.

This is totally fine, but if you then transfer them to outside, this sudden change in environment is going to put them into a little bit of shock. For a beginner this can be terrifying. I think if you knew this might happen and that it will recover, it would be quite reassuring.

However, you could just email the seller and ask them where the trees are kept. Also, if you don’t own a greenhouse yourself, you don’t really have any option but to put the tree into shock by placing it outside, so this is why it isn’t really a problem we should really worry about, but should be aware of.

Positives Of Buying A Chinese Elm Bonsai On Amazon?

There are actually some good reasons to buy one of these trees.

They Are A Great Species For Bonsai

Chinese elms are incredible for bonsai. They are fast growing and are super strong both with top growth and roots.

(You can read a more in depth article about – Is A Chinese Elm A Good Tree For Bonsai?)

They also respond amazingly well to bonsai techniques, so you can easily get super small leaves and a great branch structure. You can really get some world class trees from elms

They are also very forgiving and make excellent trees for beginners. You can make all sorts of mistakes or abuse them and they will just keep on growing.

(You can read more about – Best Species For Beginners To Use)

They Are A Blank Canvas

I may have written quite a lot about the negatives of these trees, but all of these are actually huge positives. The terrible roots and branch structure means you have a blank canvas. 

If you get one of these trees and strip it right back, you will end up with something you can really play around with and make your own.

Part of the reason why I say it doesn’t matter what “style” you get, is because you can just cut it all back and start again and build the style you want.

Most of these trees have a decent enough trunk. It’s usually going to be a lot thicker than most of the trees you are going to find for a similar price at a normal nursery.    

Chinese Elm Bonsai are Cheap

In the grand scheme of things, these trees are cheap, especially for a “bonsai”.

However, I think you are actually just paying for the trunk and then also getting a little extra pot with it.

Why Is there Bad Reviews Of Chinese Elm Bonsai On Amzon?

As with most products on Amazon, there is always going to be bad reviews. Some of them will be genuine, some will just be maniacs with insane expectations and then there is those that fall in between.

From Looking through some of them, they seem to follow a similar pattern and are usually something like

“It died after a month, we did everything right, we followed the instructions”

Which I don’t doubt, but since the instructions are awful and more importantly the trees have a lot of the issues I talk about above (poor soil, bad roots, transfer shock, being labelled as an indoors tree) it is no surprise that these trees die so quickly.

Which is why I would tell you to ignore the instructions and do what I talk about below.

What Would I Do If I Bought A Chinese Elm Bonsai?

When I bought my Chinese elm bonsai, the first thing I did was stop calling it a bonsai and started calling it nursery stock.

These trees are great, but they are not bonsai. You can try and enjoy them as they are, but if you take the time to sort them out, you will end up with a much better tree.

You can follow exactly what I did with my tree in my Chinese Elm Bonsai Progression, where you will see I do pretty much everything I’m about to talk about here.

Buy A Chinese Elm Bonsai In Spring

This isn’t essential, but I would recommend it, then you can begin work immediately.

My tree arrived in full leaf and looked really healthy, but I have a feeling that even if I had bought it at any time of the year it would still looked like this.

As it was spring I was happy to work on my tree, even though it was in full leaf.  If you buy outside of spring you can either wait until the next spring, or do the work immediately and give the tree a lot of protection.

Repot Your Chinese Elm Bonsai

The sooner you can get your Chinese elm bonsai out of the bad soil the better. Get it into some decent bonsai soil. You should also put it into a big nursery pot.

I honestly don’t think I could get my tree back into the blue pot unless I cut 90% of the roots off.  The amount of roots that were jammed into that pot was incredible.

I just left my roots fully alone and basically just changed the soil and pot. I did zero pruning. If you do this, you can probably get away with it at any time of the year.

If you want to start cutting roots, you need to do this in spring, but I wouldn’t worry about trying to develop the roots you have. If they are anything like mine, they are useless and will be dealt with later.  

Put Your Chinese Elm Bonsai Outdoors

Once it’s been repotted, get your tree outside. These trees should not be kept indoors unless you know what you’re doing. 

This is again why buying in spring is the best time to buy your tree. Spring is the best time to transition a tree to the outside environment.

Leave Your Chinese Elm Bonsai Alone

Now you just need to leave your tree alone.

Let its settle in. It’s going to need time to acclimatise and establish itself. I just left mine to grow wild for a full year.  Like I said, this is now nursery stock again, so just leave it alone and treat it’s like it’s exactly that. 

After A Year You Can Work On Your Elm

Now you can come in and start working on the tree. I cut everything back, basically I was left with just the trunk.

I will now allow the tree to grow all new branches and this time I will have full control of where they grow.

This means there will be no multiple branches from one place. The branches will not just be bent to fill in an area.

The branches I grow now will actually have a proper structure and as a bonsai will look 100 times better than before.

After another year or two, when I am happy with my new branches, I will be air layering the tree from just above the ground.

This will basically mean I am building a totally new root system and cutting off the awful one I have now. This is why not worried about pruning it at the minute. It’s all going to be removed at some point.

This seems like a lot of work, which it is. However, the tree I bought for £15 is not to the standard I want. The trunk is fine and I feel that treating it as piece of nursery stock and taking a few extra years, will result in a tree worth a whole lot more than £15.  


I know I have talked a lot about the negatives, but hopefully this has not put you off and made you realise that these trees are have excellent potential if you see them as nursery stock.

Chinese elms are amazing and paying only £15 for a decent trunk is totally worth it. I am more than happy to pretty much rebuild one of these trees from scratch as I think the end product will be fantastic.

I would highly recommend you buy one and join me on the same journey to make them better. If you have one and need need help with their care you can read my Chinese Elm Bonsai Care Guide.

If you are looking for an instant pre bought bonsai, these are not the trees to get. You will only be disappointed.