The Chinese Elm is the perfect bonsai tree for beginners and was actually the first species of tree I ever owned, as I received it one Christmas from my partner! Although it’s a very simple tree to look after, newcomers can definitely struggle for the first few months so I have put together a very simple Chinese Elm Bonsai Care Guide with all the essential tips and tricks you’ll need to know!
This species is ideal for many beginners due to it being able to withstand indoor or outdoor growth unlike many different bonsai trees. It’s resilience, ease of looking after and amazing ramification makes it the perfect first tree! It’s for this very reason that the Chinese Elm is found in most starter kits – this is actually the exact Chinese Elm Bonsai Starter Kit on Amazon that got me into this hobby! I’m happy to report that it’s still happy and thriving to this day, all these years later!
1. Watering Your Chinese Elm Bonsai
These trees are very thirsty in growing season so it’s very important to keep on top of watering a Chinese Elm! I have produced a full watering guide here should you be interested, but I will touch on a simple process anyway. Put your index finger a few centimeters into the bonsai soil to feel for moisture, it should feel damp or moist but not really wet or soggy. At this point, pour rain water or tap water into the pot, covering all of the top soil and keep going until water is leaving through the drainage holes nicely. Let it sit and drain for 3-5 minutes, before repeating the process once more.
Personally my Chinese Elm seems to be really thirsty all year round, although requiring a more frequent watering during the spring and summer when growth is the highest. This species really doesn’t respond well to under-watering so I would advise checking daily to make sure it’s requirements are being met.
2. Growing Conditions & Sunlight
The Chinese Elm bonsai can be grown indoors or outdoors, depending on climate and time of year. Typically when moved from climate to climate, this tree is going to experience the dropping of a fair amount of its foliage but this isn’t really anything to worry about, it should bounce back just fine giving the right nutrients and watering.
During the summer this tree should be getting full sunlight as much as possible but ensure to give it at least some shade when you’re in the hottest weeks of the year as the Elm can’t tolerate that too well. Although they respond well to sunlight, if you’re growing this species indoors on a window ledge, it’s going to get less sunlight than outdoors but can still thrive and grow very healthy. In fact, some owners report that their tree actually grows better in shade than in the full sunlight, so I would experiment with different placements over the course of a year and see what your Chinese Elm bonsai responds best to.
This species actually changes from evergreen to deciduous depending on the growing conditions, something I found fascinating. Grown outdoors, the Chinese Elm will actually lose all of its foliage, for more information on deciduous trees feel free to checkout my article! Those trees grown indoors will potentially lose some of their foliage but are considered evergreen.
3. Pruning Your Chinese Elm Bonsai
The Chinese Elm is a fast grower compared to a lot of species so it’s going to require a fairly large amount of maintenance pruning throughout the year. Besides pruning the foliage whenever you feel it necessary, removing branches and larger structural pruning should really only be undertaken during spring, nearer the start if possible.
In the summer as my Chinese Elm was growing nicely, I noticed that it was creating such a thick foliage which actually lead to a lack of light and oxygen exposure for the leaves nearer the inner branches. I would recommend pruning a decent amount of that foliage back, exposing some of those inner leaves to stop them turning yellow or falling off. If you are having trouble with brown leaves, I have a guide here on how to cure brown leaves on a bonsai tree.
This tree tolerates repotting very well and it should be undertaken roughly every two years, during the spring is preferred. To be safe, don’t prune away more than 1/3 of the total root mass as any more could start causing a few issues for your bonsai. Be careful to be fairly delicate with the actual bark of the tree as it can be easily damaged and pieces can fall off relatively easily.
As far as soil is concerned, when repotting a Chinese Elm it’s best practice to just use a standard bonsai soil mix like this one from Amazon. If you’re more advanced, mixing your own bonsai soil could be a great move, increasing the amount of Akadama to that of just a standard mix. For more information on creating your own bonsai soil, feel free to have a read of my step by step guide!
Many people like to feed this tree all year round with a balanced feed such as this one I picked up on Amazon. Would I recommend it? I have mixed feelings about it, personally I give my tree regular feeding through the summer months as it’s growing rapidly, then I tone it down to just a lower concentrate nitrogen free feed in the colder months. This is what I would start with, then tailor it more to your specific tree if you think better results are possible.
Quick Tips For Caring For A Chinese Elm Bonsai
Watering – Keep this tree well watered all year round, being more attentive during the summer to ensure it doesn’t get under watered.
Growing Conditions – Grow indoors or outdoors depending on your preference, sunlight is a must but it does also grow well with partial shade. Indoors the tree will be evergreen, outdoors the tree will be deciduous.
Pruning – Maintenance pruning can be done all year round to maintain shape and allow light to inner leaves. Structural pruning should be done during the early spring weeks.
Repotting – Repot every 2 years, using a standard bonsai soil mix or an Akadama heavy mix if you create your own bonsai soil.
Fertilizing – Use a balanced feed during the spring and summer, then a nitrogen free feed during autumn.
It’s worth saying that when I got my first bonsai tree, I learned how to care for it mainly from a book I was gifted. If you’re interested in learning more about bonsai are more specific techniques, this book might be useful for you too! Pickup Bonsai Basics by Colin Lewis on Amazon now.