Why Is My Chinese Elm Bonsai Losing Leaves?


Have you ever looked at your tree and in horror thought, why is my Chinese Elm bonsai losing leaves? I know I have, so I did a little bit of research into why this is.
For Chinese Elm bonsais it’s completely normal to lose leaves after keeping healthy leaves for a season. The tree will start losing some old leaves in place of the new buds growing. If your Chinese Elm drops leaves, keep a close eye on it as in the following weeks it should be replaced by strong green buds. I’ve looked into why this happened and what you can do about it.
For starters, it’s nothing to worry about the majority of the time, providing your bonsai tree is healthy and staying fed, your Chinese Elm losing leaves will most likely be a seasonal shed. The leaves dropping off the bonsai is due to a decrease in daylight and temperature as the seasons change.
bonsai tree losing leaves
When leaves start dropping off it’s the normal reaction to water your Chinese Elm and in some cases this is definitely the right thing to do. However, if you’re noticing a lot of leaves dropping, watering your plant won’t necessarily help, as your bonsai won’t be needing more water and you’ll end up overwatering your plant.

How Do I Tell If It’s Seasonal Dropping?

green plant on brown clay pot
In determining whether it is actually seasonal reasons causing your Chinese Elm to lose leaves, take a look at the bonsai. In 4-6 weeks your tree should start re-growing shoots. If it doesn’t, have a look at the leaves that have fallen off your tree, are they crisp? If they are really brittle and crisp, it seems the be the consensus that your bonsai is under watered.

It Doesn’t Seem Like Seasonal Dropping, What Should I Do?

Watering your Chinese Elm would be a good port of call. If you’re confident that your Bonsai leaves falling off isn’t to do with the seasons changing, the chances are it’ll be too dry.
In hot seasons you need to be monitoring your Chinese Elm daily to see the moisture levels in the soil. I would recommend:
  • Keeping your bonsai soil damp, not soaking wet.
  • Spraying a fine mist over the trees leaves daily.
Maintain this during the hot months and within 4-6 weeks your bonsai tree should start re-growing shoots and looking more healthy. I found that purchasing a spray mist bottle hanged the game for me completely in terms of looking after my bonsai tree the best I could. Bonsai Boy of New York have some great basics for bonsai growing and they’re offering a mist spray bottle for a good price- when using it I found I was able to cover the leaves with a really fine mist of water without drowning the leaves. Plus it was only $5.95! Click here to purchase the same one I did! I would also recommend checking out their watering cans; an obvious essential for bonsai growing, their watering can can hold up to a litre of water. Check out their watering can here.
In the colder months you need to make sure that:
  • Your Chinese Elm bonsai isn’t too cold, that will most likely be the cause of leaves turning black and dropping off the bonsai.
  • Keep the soil moist, not soaking wet.
  • Don’t feed your bonsai.

Some Useful Tips!

I’ve learnt from the bonsai community that if leaves start dropping off your Chinese Elm and it’s not seasonal, you should trim all of the over growth, thin the branches and remove what leaves your plant has left.
There is definitely the possibility that your tree has a lot of pests, so it’s a good idea to spray the tree for spider mites whilst you’re trying to save it.
Once you have followed those steps, place the bonsai outside and keep the soil moist by watering regularly.
It’s worth noting that if your tree isn’t acclimatised to living inside, it may be trying to go dormant. It’s very important that as soon as the cold weather is no longer a threat to your tree, to place the bonsai back outside and don’t bring it back in.
shallow focus photo of bonsai plants
If you are looking to purchase a Chinese Elm, the perfect tree if you’re able to provide it with a sunny environment (inside or outside), I’ll link a few below that I think would be suitable and a great option. They can range in price of course, but it’s important to know that you’re getting what you’re paying for. Bonsai trees often have a reputation for being on the more expensive side, and so you want to know that you’re purchasing a high quality tree that is in good health when you receive it. Here are a couple that I would recommend!
Elsmo Lacebark Elm (ulmus parvifolia ‘Elsmo’) $49.95– this is a great option for those who have a smaller budget. It’s an outdoor deciduous bonsai and is known to be a tough specie of bonsai so is perfect for those who are perhaps just starting out in the bonsai world and want one for their garden.
Chinese Elm Bonsai Tree Curved Trunk Style (Ulmus Parvifolia) $74.95– at a slightly higher price, this Chinese Elm is ideal for those looking for an indoor bonsai tree. It’s semi-deciduous and has a curved trunk which is great if you’re wanting a traditional looking bonsai tree.
Chinese Elm Bonsai Tree Extra Large (Ulmus Parvifolia) $150– I did want to include a bonsai tree that was at a higher price point as I know there are some people out there willing to spend more money on their forever tree. Again, it’s an indoor bonsai that is semi-deciduous and is 14 years old. It has a curved trunk and is big in size, so it’s a great looking tree.

I really hope you found this useful, it worked for me in my Chinese Elms’ time of crisis and it’s still healthy as I write this now! This isn’t gospel but it’s a collection of my own experience and experience of other bonsai tree owners across the various forums. 

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