The Chinese elm is one of the most popular bonsai trees, more so with beginners and starter kits. The species originated from south-east Asia and is perfect for bonsai due to the very small leaves it grows. As well as being perfect for bonsai, as far as bonsai goes, they’re very simple to look after and keep alive, hence why they’re so widely loved by enthusiasts and beginners alike. My first bonsai was a Chinese Elm from a starter kit on amazon, which, after repotting, is still thriving all these years later.
I’ve put together a very quick, to the point, guide on how to care for a Chinese Elm in the easiest way possible. If you have any more specific questions that aren’t answered here about the tree, please feel free to leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.
Repotting – A Chinese Elm bonsai doesn’t need to be repotted too regularly, unless of course it’s a young tree. If the tree is very young, repotting every 2-3 years would suffice. It’s worth noting that if you’re looking to trim the root ball when repotting, tread carefully as the roots will often be very tangled with this species.
Pruning – By nature, the Chinese Elm is a very quick grower and will more or less get out of control if it’s not regularly pruned. It’s recommended that when pruning a shoot, you should wait until it has grown at least 3 nodes before pruning right back.
If you’re looking to any pruning of large branches such as a sacrificial branch, the best time to do so would be the autumn, preferably late in autumn.
Sunlight and Climate – The Chinese elm does grow well in a full sunlight environment as it needs a lot of light. Indoor or outdoor growth can be done, depending on the climate. In a more humid or warm climate, the bonsai can stay outdoors during the winter, as long as there is no risk of frost snaps. If you’re in a more brisk climate, growing the bonsai indoors all year round, or only in winter is definitely advisable. If you’re growing the Chinese elm indoors, make sure not to have it positioned near an active radiator as this can really harm the health of the tree.
Shaping – The Chinese elm responds very well to being shaped and really doesn’t make it tricky for you. Any sort of normal bonsai shaping wire will work absolutely fine for this. I recommend using this wire, which I am using to shape my Chinese elm currently.
Watering – The Chinese elm does require a lot of watering as the soil will tend to dry out pretty fast all year round. As per any bonsai, you want to make sure the pot has sufficient drainage holes to avoid the tree getting root rot. Every tree varies but for my Chinese elm, I tend to water once every 2 days for most of the year. I’ll pour filtered water through the soil until it’s streaming out of the drainage holes, before leaving for 2-5 minutes and repeating the process.
Pests – The Chinese elm is a pretty resilient bonsai, however the chance of it getting scale/spider mites is pretty high. Although this isn’t really too dangerous for the tree, it’s worth keeping an eye on. I’ve done a whole article on what to look for here, so be sure to check that out.
Soil – The Chinese elm doesn’t have any requirements that would mean it needs any sort of special soil, a normal bonsai soil mix will be absolutely fine. If you have purchased a bonsai starter kit Chinese Elm, I would recommend repotting the tree in the spring with a new soil mix. If you don’t have any left over soil mix from other tree projects, I recommend purchasing this bonsai soil for a Chinese Elm.
Signs Of Trouble – When growing a Chinese Elm bonsai, there are a few signs you want to look out for, when checking the health of the tree.
- Yellowing of the leaves.
The leaves of your bonsai turning yellow isn’t technically always a health problem as in the colder months, the Chinese elm will usually have some leaves turning yellow and dropping off, before regrowing healthy buds 6 weeks later. Underwatering, lack of light, time of year and the environment can all cause yellowing of the leaves. For more information, check my full guide here about why your Chinese elm is turning yellow.
- The leaves being sticky.
The leaves being sticky tends to mean that your bonsai will have scale or spider mites infesting it. This is a pretty simple fix once you catch it. I wrote a whole guide specifically for this problem, so be sure to check that out here.
A Few Chinese Elm Bonsai –