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Chinese Elm Bonsai Tree Care: A Comprehensive Guide To Growing And Nurturing Your Chinese Elm

Chinese elm bonsai tree care

The Chinese elm is arguably the most popular species used for bonsai cultivation. The popularity depends on various factors, but mainly because the Chinese elm bonsai tree care guides are easy to follow and maintained by both experts and beginners. Other than that they are one of the most attractive bonsai species as well. Its gorgeous-looking trunk can be trained in every shape you desire, small green leaves and strong branches make it an excellent specimen. 

Just by maintaining a few important aspects you can witness your bonsai thriving. So, if you wish to know how to succeed in bonsai practice read on to learn;

  • General growth habits
  • Care guides
  • And many more…

General Information And Growth Habits:

Botanical nameUlmus parvifolia
FamilyUlmaceae (elm)
Tree typeBroadleaf deciduous tree
Foliage typetoothed edges and alternating leaf pattern
Growth habitUpright 
Leaves in autumn Yellow-brown leaves 
Trunk grey bark that flakes off with age,
Mature height in the wildcan grow up to 80 ft.
Leaf drop Yellow-brown leaves falls in winter

Chinese Elm Bonsai Tree Care Guides:

To witness a thriving and healthy Chinese elm bonsai you not only need passion and dedication but also proper knowledge about it. I will make it easy for you and list out a detailed care guide below that you can follow easily:

For Chinese elm bonsai tree care you need to look out for;

  1. Proper location 
  2. Right amount watering 
  3. Feeding 
  4. Pruning 
  5. Training or wiring 
  6. Repotting
  7. Winter protection 
  8. Protection from pest and disease 

1. Location:

A bonsai elm tree care will fail if you ignore its proper location. People often ignore this point because Chinese elm is known as both indoor and outdoor bonsai and ends up being in a dark shady location. 

It’s true that these bonsai can survive in both places but with caution. 

If you are planning to keep them indoors, it has to be a bright location with good airflow. This will ensure the thriving growth of the bonsai. Experts mostly preferred to keep it near a south-facing window. 

If you are planning to keep them outdoors, choose a place where it can get morning and afternoon sunlight. Mid-summer hot days might be too hot for them. Your tree will get burn spots on the leaves if you do so. 

2. Watering:

Just like any other green plants in Chinese elm bonsai tree care guidance watering is most important. Even though Chinese elm bonsai are extremely hardy, they can’t handle constant moisture and prolonged dryness in the soil. 

How to water?

You can not follow a routine while watering. Use your own observation before you proceed. To determine that check the topsoil of the bonsai pot. To do that properly you can use a few methods;

  1. USe your finger. Insert your finger in the soil by a few inches and feel the dryness. 
  2. Use a wooden chopstick and insert it in the soil. If the stick came out muddy it means it’s still wet. 
  3. Use a soil moisture metre. It’s cheap and simple to use. Just insert the probe of the metre in the soil and it will show the results. 

Make sure the upper part of the soil is slightly dry before watering. Give the water thoroughly. Make sure the water is running out of the drainage holes. 


  • If the bonsai is indoors your watering session can get messy. So you can try to put the pot in the sink, water it and take the pot out after the drainage process is complete. If your sink isn’t big enough or if you don’t wanna move your plant you can place a drip tray under the pot. 
  • Chopsticks can disturb the roots if you do it harshly, so take your time and insert it a bit far from the base of the trunk of the tree. 

Watering based on seasons:

Summer: Check the tree one to two times a day and water it accordingly. You can even mist daily. 

Autumn: Check the bonsai at least once a day for watering. 

Winter: They will need water two to three times a week. 

Spring: Check the soil twice a day for watering. 

3. Feeding:

In Chinese elm bonsai tree care, feeding is important as they are the first growing tree and additional nourishment will help out a lot, especially during the growing season. 

Any balanced fertiliser like 19-19-19 would work. Use it once a month in the growing season (Feb to May). 

You don’t have to fertilise the bonsai in the winter months. 


We don’t usually recommend using high nitrogen-based fertiliser as it will make the leaves larger and that honestly doesn’t look that attractive. But if you want to have bigger leaves in your bonsai use high nitrogen-based fertiliser. The ratio would look like this: 10-8-8. 

4. Pruning:

As they grow faster it can handle pruning more than once. The best time to prune is the growing season. 

Allow the shoots to develop 3 to 4 nodes before pruning. You can prune them down to 1 to 2 nodes. After the heavy pruning, your tree should grow more busily from those dead woods. 

Autumn is the best time for pruning the branches and one of the best practices of Chinese elm bonsai tree care. 

Root pruning:

When you will repot your bonsai you can use the advantage to prune the roots as well. Do not trim out more than thirty percent of the main root mass. 

5. Wiring:

In Chinese elm bonsai tree care wiring is most important to shape the tree. You can hurt the tree easily so you have to do it properly. 

Wiring doesn’t have a specific time, but you can go for mid-winter wiring as this time leaves drop due to dormant and you will have a clean canvas to work on. 


Remove the wire in spring as the growth during this time will be rapid and will leave bite marks easily. 

6. Repotting:

Repotting your bonsai tree is necessary for Chinese elm bonsai tree care to keep them healthy in a small, shallow bonsai planter.

Depending on the age of your bonsai tree, here’s how frequently you have to re-pot it:

Young Bonsai: every 2 years

Old/Mature Bonsai: 3 to 4 years

To re-pot;

  • Assemble the tools like a root rake, wire cutter, scissors, and chopsticks. Make sure all are sterilised. 
  • with a root rake, carefully release your tree from its pot.
  • Use the chopstick and clear the old soil.
  • Use pruning scissors and cut away 30 percent of the roots.
  • Put a thin layer of heavy-grain soil for good drainage at the bottom of the pot. Next, add a thin layer of bonsai soil.
  • Plant the tree in the new pot.
  • Water the bonsai tree well. 

7. Winter Care:

Chinese elm bonsai are originally from a warm environment and because of that they are vulnerable in cold weather. If your residential area is freezing cold on winter nights it’s better to keep your tree inside. You can place the bonsai inside a greenhouse or any kind of cold frame as well. 

8. Pest And Disease:

Chinese elm bonsai don’t get attacked by a pest that often but spider mites and aphids are those stubborn pests that can attract almost every plant. You can use neem oil to get rid of them naturally. To prevent further attraction you should check the bonsai while checking its soil. For fungus accumulation use a fungicide like SAAF. 

All Chinese elm require is constant maintenance in order to develop and survive for many years. Fortunately, this species is simple to care for, so beginners can use it as their first practice specimen. Chinese elm bonsai, unlike other deciduous species, can be kept both indoors and outdoors, making it an excellent exhibit in any home. It also changes leaf colours in autumn and sheds leaves in winter, displaying a variety of beauties throughout the year. 

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