chinese elm bonsai

Chinese Elm (Ulmus parvifolia) Bonsai: How to Grow and Care

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Native to southeast Asia, the Chinese elm has a reputation as being a towering, statuesque tree. It can grow up to 80 feet tall, in fact, with a trunk diameter of more than three feet!

However, despite its massive size, this plant is also one of the most commonly cultivated as a bonsai species. This is because the plant develops small, delicate leaves that are absolutely lovely to behold in a more compact environment. 

It is one of the most popular elms for bonsai purposes and is very easy to grow. Here’s how to do it. 

Interesting Facts about Chinese Elm Bonsai

Height: 8-10 inches

Width: 2 inches

Sunlight: Full sunlight 

Flowering Time Length: Does not flower

Lifespan: 50+ years

Scientific name: Ulmus parvifolia

Types of Chinese Elm Bonsai

The Chinese elm is the most commonly chosen elm for bonsai. Other elms can also be used, but this plant produces some of the most beautiful foliage. 

It is often confused with the Zelkova plant, but the difference is in the leaves. While Zelkova has single-toothed leaves, the Chinese Elm has double-toothed leaves.

Growing Chinese Elm Bonsai from Seed or By Propagation

Although Chinese elm bonsai can be grown from seed, it is more often propagated from cuttings. This can usually be done by beginners with limited problems.

How To Care for Chinese Elm Bonsai

Here are some bonsai caring tips you can follow:


Chinese elm bonsai can be grown both in full sun as well as in partial shade. If you live in a mild climate, you can easily let this tree remain outside throughout the year – including during the winter months.

You can also bring this bonsai plant indoors during the summer and winter months, but it’s best to keep it in a cool, frost-free room (like a cold garage). 

The plant can withstand a  little bit of frost, but it will ultimately depend on the hardiness of your plant as well as the region from which the tree was imported. While cultivars from northern areas of China seem to be more well-adapted to the old, those from southern areas are not quite as resilient. 

Either way, you may find that your Chinese elm drops some of its leaves while it’s in winter dormancy. 


Water your Chinese elm liberally, doing so as soon as the soil begins to dry out. It’s important that you avoid prolonged dry spells but also that you avoid prolonged wetness, which can cause issues with the roots of your tree. 


The Chinese elm should be fed well with a solid organic fertilizer (or a liquid chemical fertilizer) during the growing season. Do not feed your plant while it is dormant in the winter. You don’t need to use very much fertilizer, nor do you need to use any special kind of fertilizer.

Potting and Repotting 

You will want to repot your Chinese elm bonsai every other year. Large or very old elms can be repotted less often. 

The best time to repot your tree is in the spring. You should carefully prune the roots, which can require a great deal of concentration. 

Chinese elm produces crooked, intertwined roots that need to be separated to the best of your abilities. There are no special soil requirements, but it does need to be well-draining. You can use any standard soil mixture to get the job done. 

Pruning a Chinese Elm Bonsai

It’s a good idea to prune your Chinese elm bonsai on a regular basis. If left to its own devices, it will thicken rapidly. Therefore, you may want to trim your plant often, which will help to produce fresh buds. Let the shoots extend out to three or four nodes before pruning back to just one or two leaves. The best time to prune is in the late fall.

Pests and Diseases

Chinese elm bonsai is not prone to very many diseases or pests. The only ones you may encounter are scale and spider mites. Usually, these issues are worsened by a lack of humidity. To get rid of spider mites, you can use a pesticide. Getting on a regular schedule of misting your plant can help keep these pests at bay. 

Where to Buy Chinese Elm Bonsai

You can purchase Chinese elm seeds from many online retailers, but you would be better off purchasing a starter plant from a specialty nursery. This will ensure you get a high-quality tree that is already trained to grow in a container.

*Photo by chinese elm bonsai/depositphotos

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