Chinese Elm Bonsai Care Guide

The Chinese elm (Ulmus parvifolia)is a small deciduous tree that is extremely tough and fast growing. It is very popular as a bonsai and is probably one of the most commonly owned bonsai trees.

It’s excellent for bonsai and is also an excellent choice for beginners since it is very forgiving and very easy to care for.

This article is a general care guide for healthy trees. While Chinese elms are very tough, they can be easily stressed. If you think yours is in trouble, you can readIs My Chinese Elm Bonsai Is Dying? – How To Save It to see if you can solve the problem.

I bought an chinese elm online, you can read about my advice around Buying A Chinese Elm Bonsai On Amazon.

You can also follow the development of the tree I bought in my Chinese Elm Bonsai Progression.

What Is The Natural Habitat of A Chinese Elm?

Chinese elm comes from China! What a shock. They also grow in neighbouring countries such as Korea and Japan.

However, they have been introduced to pretty much every continent at this point.

This is obviously a vast array of environments and conditions that this tree can grow in. They are also often planted in the landscape in difficult areas such as along road sides and in cities.  

What Soil Do Chinese Elm Bonsai Need?

Chinese elm bonsai prefer a moist, well draining soil. I use my standard mix of equal parts Perlite/Molar Clay/Compost.

If you buy one of these as a “bonsai” you will find it comes in the worst soil you’ll ever see. It’s some sort of 100% coco fibre/peat like stuff. The sooner you can get it out of this and into some good soil free draining soil the better.  

(For more info on soil read – A General Guide To Bonsai Soil)

How Do You Water A Chinese Elm Bonsai?

Chinese elm bonsai will drink a lot so you should water them often.

However, once they are established, they can handle a little drought, although you shouldn’t do this on purpose, but basically if you have a little disaster and forget to water your tree for a while it will probably survive as these trees are extremely forgiving.   

(For more info you can read –How To Water A Bonsai)

How Much Sun Light Does A Chinese Elm Bonsai Need?

Chinese elm bonsai can take full sun. They can also handle partial shade too, but they will of course grow more vigorously in full sun.  

They are often classed as “indoor” trees because they can handle slightly shadier positions. While they will survive, they will not thrive indoors.

Getting them enough sunlight is usually not the problem while indoors, they can usually get enough from the windows. It’s usually the temperatures inside that cause them problems. you should really try and grow your Chinese elm outside so it can be as healthy as possible.  

This will give it enough light and the right temperatures. These are tough trees, they will be fine outside.

How Hardy Are Chinese Elm Bonsai?

Chinese elm bonsai are often not given credit for how hardy they are. As they are seen as “indoor” trees people wrongly assume they are sensitive to the cold.

Chinese elms are actually extremely hardly. Studies have shown they can survive down to −34 °C (−29 °F). Which is pretty cold!

Obviously a tree in a pot will not be able to go this low, but it does give you an idea how hardy they are and there is probably no need to give them as much shelter as some people give them.

I leave mine outside all year round, with no protection and most of you reading this could do the same. I would imagine a few of you do get extremely cold winters. If this is the case I would protect the tree by placing it in an unheated greenhouse or shed.

They need a cold spell, so don’t keep them inside all year round! I know they are sold with this information, but it is wrong. They are trees, they need to experience the natural cycle of the seasons so get them outside and only protect them from the extreme cold if necessary.

(For more info you can read – Working Out How To Over Winter Bonsai Trees)

How Often Do You Feed A Chinese Elm Bonsai?

I feed my elm once a month during the growing season with a general all purpose fertiliser.

(For more info you can read – Do You Need To Use “Bonsai” Fertiliser?)

How Do Chinese Elm Bonsai Respond to Pruning?

Chinese elm bonsai respond very well to pruning. They will reliably back bud when pruned.

You can also hard prune a Chinese elm and it will back bud like crazy. You will actually end up with too many shoots. They literally bud everywhere. This can get problematic as you will need to constantly be removing these extra shoots, but this is very much a good type of problem to have.  

It is very easy to achieve good ramification on a Chinese elm. The leaves will also reduce in size very well with pruning. You will find that they grow rather fast and can be pruned a few times through out the season. If you are trying to build ramification you should let them grow out to about 8 pairs of leaves and then trim them back to where you need to, which is usually to two or three leaves. This should keep them nice and vigorous

They are also very forgiving of pruning mistakes as they will always grow new shoots if you end up cutting off too much.  

(For more info you can read- How To Prune A Bonsai Tree)

Repotting A Chinese Elm Bonsai

Chinese elm bonsai are vigorous root growers. You will probably need to repot them more often than not, but this will come down to the individual tree and the pot size. The roots can get very out of control very quickly and they can take a lot of work to get back under control.

You can also take root cuttings from an elm. Basically you can cut a section of root off and plant it separately and it will most likely sprout new shoots.

(For more info you can read – How To Repot A Bonsai Tree)

Wiring A Chinese Elm Bonsai

As with all deciduous trees, you should really wire them to shape, especially the primary structure.

However, you can get away with just trying to use clip and grow techniques, especially once you have a good main structure set. The branches can get really thin, so wiring out all the way to the tips can be difficult and clip and grow is more appropriate here.

(For more info read – Why Do We Wire Bonsai?)

What Is The Leaf Pattern Of A Chinese Elm Bonsai?

Chinese elm bonsai have an alternating leaf pattern along their branches.

If you are having trouble with your leaves you can read – Why Is My Chinese Elm Bonsai Turning Yellow?

What Pests Does A Chinese Elm Bonsai Suffer From?

Chinese elm bonsai are resistant to dutch elm disease, which has killed so many elm trees around the world.

However, it can still be susceptible to common pests such as spider mite or scale insects. You should inspect your tree regularly to ensure nothing is attacking it.

Can You Propagate A Chinese Elm Bonsai?

You can propagate a Chinese elm bonsai fairly easily. They will usually take form cuttings and you can even take root cuttings that will sprout new growth. Most of the amazon beginner elms are grown this way.

You can also easily air layer them and grow them from seed. However, most seeds that are sold online are not viable or you get sent another species all together. There are a lot of scammer selling seeds, but I am sure if you can find a good seller you will grow your elms with no problems.

What Is The Growth Rate Of A Chinese Elm Bonsai?

Chinese elm bonsai grow very fast. You can very quickly develop them into a good tree. You can also thicken them very easily by growing them in the ground for a few years.

If you are focusing on ramification you will find that you need to trim your tree a couple of times in a season. They will just keep pushing new growth.

Should You Get A Chinese Elm Bonsai?

Chinese elm bonsai are great and are really easy to care for. They are cheap to buy, but most of what is available isn’t great material.

This shouldn’t stop you getting one though as they are great trees and with a little bit of work you can really end up with something cool.

It doesnt matter if you are a beginner or are very advanced, you should have a Chinese elm, they are just great for bonsai.

You can read more about elms use in bonsai – Is A Chinese Elm A Good Tree For Bonsai.