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How to Care For Chinese Elm Bonsai

Chinese Elm trees are indigenous to southeast Asia and are most commonly found in China. In the wild, these trees will grow up to 80 feet tall, but as a bonsai, they are kept around 4 feet tall. The small leaves on these trees make for a wonderful bonsai tree.

There are many kinds of elm trees in nature, but the Chinese Elm is the most popular for bonsai. Zelkova trees look similar to Elm trees, which causes confusion between the two. You can see the difference between the two in their leaves. Chinese Elm trees have double-toothed leaves, while Zelkova trees’ leaves are single-toothed.

Caring for Your Chinese Elm

Beginners will love Chinese Elms because they are so easy to care for. These trees are beautiful indoor or outdoor bonsai that do not like frost or lots of light. Chinese Elms like to be kept moist and like to be fed very well during their growing season as most bonsai do. Pruning can be done during the growth season, but wiring is rarely necessary.

Positioning Your Chinese Elm

Chinese Elm trees are not particularly picky when it comes to their position. They can grow in full sun or partial shade. Only keep your tree outdoors in the winter if your climate has mild winters. Elm trees can be taken inside in the summer, but should be protected from frost in the winter. Certain trees can stand frost in the winter, but that depends on where they are from. Chinese Elm trees imported from southern China are less likely to survive frost than those that have been imported from northern China. Elms may also drop their leaves in the winter, depending on how cold it is.

Watering Your Chinese Elm

As with all other bonsai trees, never water your Chinese Elm on a routine. Water instead when its soil gets dry. These trees are fairly picky about their water preferences. Do not let these trees dry out completely, but also avoid constant wetness.

Fertilizing Your Chinese Elm

A balanced fertilizer works well for these trees. The directions on the packaging should tell you how often to apply the fertilizer. Feed during the growth season using a combination of solid and liquid fertilizer. Do not feed the tree when it is in dormancy.


Letting the tree grow freely will allow the tree to thicken very fast. Elms respond very well to regular pruning. Pruning will allow for vegetation to grow densely. Once 3 or 4 nodes have grown on a shoot, prune back one or two leaves. Pruning should be done in late autumn.

Repotting Your Chinese Elm

Re-pot young Chinese Elms every two years, and older trees every three to five years in the spring. There is no specific soil that these trees prefer; just make sure you use a well draining soil. When re-potting, you should also prune any intertwined or crooked roots. Do this carefully to ensure the roots look as good as possible.

Common Chinese Elm Diseases and Pests

Low humidity often results in scale or spider mites. You can use pesticides to rid your tree of pests and spray the tree with water to increase humidity. You can also try placing a humidity tray filled with water under the tree’s container. Avoid using thinned lime-sulfur pesticides as these will make your tree drop its leaves.

Chinese Elm bonsai are perfect for beginners and experts alike. They are relatively low maintenance but still beautiful. While these trees prefer to live indoors, you can place them indoors or outdoors, depending on your climate. Warm summers, mild winters, and partial shade will make your tree a happy one. Elm trees are particular about their water intake. Droughts and constant wetness are not favored by these trees. Water your tree when the first inch of the soil is dry. Feed with a mix of soil and liquid fertilizer. Some diseases and pests are common with these trees, but they are all treatable. Happy growing!

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