Chinese Elm Bonsai Tree Care


Bonsai are man-made pieces of art reflecting their mysterious philosophy. The intention for growing bonsai suggests contemplation for the viewer and the pleasant activity of genuine effort and creativity for the owner. Bonsai practice focuses on long-term treatment and ornamenting of the favoured plant growing in a container. The Chinese elm tree is a unique looking plant widely used among bonsai art practitioners. The characteristics of this elm tree make it one of the most appealing to choose for an ornamental indoor treatment even for an extremely selective person.

chinese elm bonsai tree leaveschinese elm bonsai tree leaves

Short history of Chinese Elm Bonsai

The Chinese Elm, or Ulmus parvifolia, is native to East Asia growing wild in China, Korea, Japan and Taiwan where it might grow as tall as 60 feet. The smaller leaves of the Chinese elm are ideal for bonsai. The Chinese Elm is a part of a genus of 45 species of Elms. It is arguably one of the top three best beginner bonsai trees used in the art of Bonsai including Ficus and Crassula (Money Tree).

General description of Chinese Elm sub-species

Corkbark Elm. The bark is coarse and the leaves are the same size and texture as that of Ulmus Parvifolia.

Caitlin Elm. Leaves are small, lanceolate and shiny dark green.

Winged Elm. This Elm is noted for its interesting gnarled bark and the way the branches form flattened "wings" as it ages.

Leaves and trunk

Chinese elm leavesThe leaves are small, dark green and have a leathery appearance with a shiny top side and small, blunt teeth. Fine twigs, wonderful branches and a twisting trunk add to the great appearance of the plant. The bark has different characteristics and textures ranging from smooth to rough.

Flowers and fruit

Chinese Elm bonsai produces tiny flowers made during the early autumn. The flowers have no flower petals, therefore they are unnoticeable. Every autumn it bears a samara fruit that is a dry and also indehiscent fruit. The fruit has one seed positioned in the centre as well as it has elliptic to ovate-elliptic shape.

Tolerance to climate

Climate for Chinese elm

Chinese Elm might be both indoor as well as outdoor bonsai. It appears as semi-evergreen tree when it is planted as an indoor bonsai and as a deciduous tree when it is grown as an outdoor bonsai. These plants are considered to be frost hardy, but most varieties can be acclimatised to outdoor conditions only with time and should still be given frost protection as sub zero temperatures can damage roots and branches. Cold wind can be also harmful for the plant.

Tolerance to sun

Sun requirements for Chinese elm

Whether indoors or out, the plant can tolerate both full sun and full shade environment, but needs a moderate amount of light and requires a location with good ventilation for healthy development. Care should be taken not to place indoor trees in areas of very dry air such as above a radiator or in direct sunlight for a long time.


It is relevant to check annually whether the roots need to be repotted as they tend to grow intensively with Chinese Elm bonsai. Frequency of repotting depends on the age and size of the plant as well as on the size of the pot it has been grown before. Younger plants need to be repotted once a year while for older plants the period of transplantation varies from 2 to 4 years. The most effective time to repot the plant is early spring before new buds appear. This has to be done either a month before or after the major spring pruning to protect the plant from shock to its roots. Any type of soil with appropriate drainage seems to satisfy the needs of the plant.


Chinese elm watering

Chinese Elm bonsai requires to be watered carefully. It prefers remaining moist without over watering. Otherwise, the leaves may turn yellow. The amount of humidity depends on the climate conditions the plant is placed in. The more sunlight and warmth it receives, the more frequent watering it demands. The most common technique to figure out the best time for watering is to feel whether the soil lacks moisture with the finger.

Pests and diseases

Chinese elm pests

Fortunately, Chinese Elm bonsai are resistant to Dutch elm disease which is typical to the majority elm trees. The most common disorder is fungal disease called black spots. It occurs on the leaves usually when the tree is kept constantly too moist. Aphids, scale insects and borers occasionally attack the plant during its stressful times. Cankers may appear on young trunks where soil is excessively wet.

Shaping Chinese Elm bonsai

Shaping can be done by pruning and wiring. Pruning has to be done during the growing season by trimming back the new shoots to one or two sets of leaves mostly in mid summer. Root pruning should go together with branch pruning. Wiring should be done extremely carefully because the bark is thin and may be damaged easily. The best time to do this is between late spring and mid autumn although indoor elms can be wired at any time of the year.


Chinese Elm bonsai may be shaped in any bonsai style, except formal upright. Twisty trunk can be formed from early growing stage. This type of plant is especially suited for the broom form of bonsai. 'S' shaped trunk style is well-known among its imports. Cascade and semi-cascade styles are also popular with this plant.

Chinese Elm bonsai Summary

The Chinese elm is the most versatile tree in bonsai. It is an ideal start for beginners because of its easy treatment and perfect choice for enthusiasts of higher levels of experience. Being not vulnerable to Duch disease and easily adaptable to mobile environment makes this outstanding plant more attractive and suitable for bonsai.