Ulmus parvifolia

Chinese elm

Bonsai care and maintenance

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The Chinese Elm is indigenous to China and south-east Asia. In its native environment it can be a mighty tree reaching heights of up to 80 feet (25 meter). It develops a fine branch ramification with small leaves, which makes it a very suitable Bonsai plant.

Chinese elm Bonsai video

Chinese elm Bonsai Care guidelines


The Chinese elm thrives in either full sun and/or partial shade. In temperate climates, it can be left outdoors even during winter months. If you have an indoor Chinese Elm Bonsai you can place it outside during the summer, but it's best to bring it into a cool, but frost-free, room in the winter. The Chinese Elm can usually endure some frost but it differs depending on the region it was imported from. Trees from northern Chinese regions are more frost-hardy than those coming from southern areas. Depending on winter temperatures Chinese Elms either drop their leaves or keep them until spring when the new shoots emerge.


The Chinese Elm can not endure prolonged drought or constant moisture. Ignore labels stating your Chinese elm needs watering every day, you need to water on observation. Wait until the topsoil is dry, and then water generously, making sure the entire root-mass is watered. Continue reading about watering Bonsai trees.


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Make sure to provide plenty of fertilizer to nourish your Chinese Elm during the growing season. You don't need to use any fancy fertilizers. A combination of solid organic fertilizer with a well-balanced liquid chemical fertilizer works great. No fertilization is necessary during cold winters when the elm tree is dormant.

Pruning and wiring

The Chinese elm thickens rather quickly and requires frequent trimming in order to produce a dense network of fine branches. Allow the shoot to extend 3 or 4 nodes before pruning it back to 1 or 2 leaves. The tree buds well from old wood after strong pruning. The best time to prune larger branches is in late autumn. The Chinese elm is ideal for shaping with standard wiring and guy wire techniques. Continue reading about pruning Bonsai trees.


Chinese Elm trees should be repotted every two years when they are young. As they grow older and larger they can be repotted in longer intervals. No matter what the age, the best time to repot is during the spring. The elm's roots tend to grow crooked and intertwined, so it's important that root pruning be done carefully and with precision to create a nice nebari. It has no special soil requirements, but it's best to select a well-draining soil. A standard soil mixture will suffice. Continue reading about repotting Bonsai trees.


We recommend using cuttings to propagate the Chinese Elm Bonsai trees. It's easy and rarely presents any problems. Propagating using seeds is, of course, possible but not recommended.

Pests and diseases

The Chinese Elm is often infested by spider mites or scale when humidity is low. Appropriate pesticides should be used, and frequent spraying with water helps to deter pests and diseases. Spraying with thinned lime-sulfur or systemic pesticides can cause the Chinese Elm to lose all its leaves, so avoid these products. For more detailed information on these techniques, check out our Bonsai tree care section.

General information about the Chinese elm Bonsai tree

The Chinese elm is a very popular choice of Bonsai for beginners, as it is a strong tree that reacts well to pruning and can be kept outdoors as well as indoors. The fine ramification, tiny leaves and beautiful bark are characteristics most loved for this tree species.

The Chinese elm is the most popular of the elm trees for bonsai purposes, although other elms are also suitable for Bonsai. The Chinese elm is often confused with the Japanese zelkova. Mature Chinese elms develop a scaling bark with orange patches while the zelkova's bark stays smooth. Moreover, Chinese elm leaves have a more glossy surface and zelkova leaves are often narrower and more pointed.

The Siberian elm (Ulmus pumila) also resembles the Chinese elm. It is native to Eastern Siberia, Middle Asia, Mongolia and Northern China, has larger double-toothed leaves and develops a deeply furrowed bark. The Siberian elm is very frost-hardy, robust, can tolerate droughts better and is resistant to the Dutch elm disease. If you need help identifying your tree, take a look at our Bonsai tree identification guide.

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