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The Chinese elm is a popular bonsai in this country. It is touted as an easy-care houseplant. So it is not only to be found in specialist shops. They are also regularly offered by hardware stores and large retail chains. Touched by her beauty, even the uninitiated grab it. In fact, at first she brings a lot of Asian flair into our home. But the tide can soon turn. Care mistakes creep in and end their existence. But that need not be.

Chinese elm as bonsai

The Chinese elm, bot. Ulmus parvifolia, is widespread in the Asian countries of China, Japan and Korea. In the wild, it grows into a stately tree with a round, broom-shaped crown. But the long tradition of bonsai culture there also likes to use this tree. The Chinese elm also thrives as a decorative bonsai in a pot. This pruning-compatible tree species is offered in this country already preformed. So even a beginner can dare to cultivate. But this bonsai is not as easy to care for as advertised. That's why every owner should know the basics of their care right from the start.

notice: Occasionally we come across this bonsai under the name Japanese elm.



By nature, the Chinese elm is more of an outdoor bonsai. However, our climate only allows her to stay outdoors in the summer.

  • put outside from June to September
  • in the garden or on the terrace or balcony
  • to a sunny location
  • partial shade is also accepted
  • only protect from the blazing midday sun on very hot days
  • at the latest before the first frost

If you don't have the opportunity to put the elm outside, you can keep the mini tree in the room all year round. A bright and well-ventilated location is a must.

tip: Whenever feasible, the bonsai should be given a summer stay outdoors. He thanks it with better health and stronger drive.


The Chinese elm really likes the cold. That's why she becomes the cold house plants counted. However, where their tolerance limit lies in this regard is controversial. The exact origin of the variety may play a role. Also the place where the life of bonsai began. The plants that we offer cheaply in the trade mostly come from tropical areas where they have not had the opportunity to harden sufficiently. Even if some bonsai specimens tolerate slightly below zero. You are only on the safe side if you consistently avoid frost. Therefore, the following recommendations apply to the wintering of the Chinese elm as a bonsai:

  • hibernate in the house
  • to a bright location
  • at temperatures between 0 and 10 °C
  • a conservatory that is not fully heated is ideal
  • warmer hibernation up to max. 20 °C is also possible
  • however, requires more intensive care

During cold hibernation, the otherwise evergreen tree loses part or all of its foliage. Endure the bare branches patiently until spring. Then the bonsai wakes up from its "hibernation" and quickly drives out fresh green leaves.

Optimal substrate

The bonsai is not only unique in the plant world because of its appearance. Its roots also require a special substrate: Akadama. The clay granules of volcanic origin are mined in Japan and exported worldwide. Akadama is considered the ideal bonsai soil because it offers the following advantages:

  • immediately good stability
  • Oxygen for the roots thanks to good permeability
  • long-lasting structural stability, no risk of compaction
  • Prevention of root rot through drainage properties
  • good retention of ingested nutrients
  • Compensation of pH value fluctuations (no soil acidification)

The proportion of Akadama in the bonsai soil used should be at least one third. The rest is made up of equal parts humus and a mineral substrate.

notice: Young trees can alternatively stand in a mixture of two parts clay and one part sand in the first few years. Older specimens, on the other hand, can root in 100% Akadama. They may then only be fertilized organically.


Ulmus parvifolia, which experiences the artful use of scissors every year, remains small throughout its life. Only the shape may change a little. Although the bonsai does not need a larger pot, it still needs to be repotted regularly. The best time for this is spring.

  • repot young bonsai every one to two years
  • older specimens every three to five years
  • Clip roots with sharp, clean scissors
  • Replace old substrate completely with fresh one


When it comes to the element of water, this bonsai behaves like most plants: just no wet roots. And ball dryness just as little. In order for this ideal state to be consistently given, you have to fulfill your part with the right casting behavior:

  • keep the substrate slightly moist throughout
  • water only when the surface of the soil has dried
  • Adjust the amount of water to the temperature or season
  • in summer it may have to be watered several times a day
  • when temperature, location and shell size require it
  • Waterlogging must not occur
  • therefore pour away excess water as soon as possible

tip: The plant is all too easily forgotten in winter quarters. But even during this time you should keep your root ball slightly moist.


You can make this part of the care easy for yourself: get a special bonsai fertilizer from a specialist shop and follow the manufacturer's recommendations for the dosage. In general, the following points should be considered when supplying nutrients:

  • fertilize during the growing season
  • start fertilizing in April
  • fertilize twice a month
  • Combine fertilizing with watering
  • do not fertilize in winter

notice: When hibernating above 10°C, the bonsai still needs nutrients, albeit to a lesser extent than in summer. If so, keep fertilizing. However, increase the intervals between two fertilizer applications to four weeks.

bonsai shapes

A Chinese elm is pruned and can therefore be shaped in many ways as a bonsai. Most owners will generally go by the shape when purchasing. But some lovers of these miniature trees feel like changing the crown or even raising a young bonsai from the start themselves. For example, they have the choice between a free or strictly upright form and training with multiple trunks.

The green leaves of the elm, jagged at the tip, offer us a special feature. We can resize them with the right cutting technique. The more the bonsai branches out, the more filigree and smaller its leaves become. In this way, appealing proportions can be achieved in the crown.

To cut

The desired shape of the bonsai is achieved and maintained through regular pruning. Young trees are initially stimulated to grow thicker. For this, shoots can grow up to 12 pairs of leaves and then be cut back to two or three pairs of leaves. For mature trees, the following rules apply to pruning:

  • cut in spring at the beginning of the growing season
  • Cut off dried and overly long branches
  • Allow young shoots to grow to 6-8 leaves
  • then shorten to three leaves
  • Cut back subsequent new shoots all year round
  • as soon as it "leaves" the fixed shape of the crown

wiring and guying

It is best if you achieve the desired crown shape by cutting. If that doesn't quite work, you can wrap branches with special bonsai wire to bring them into a certain position. This is called wiring. Wiring is possible all year round and is recommended for young, woody but still flexible branches.

Strong branches, on the other hand, are gradually brought into the desired position by so-called anchoring. First, a loop is pulled around the branch. Then the wire is pulled tight and fastened at the bottom.


With good care, the Chinese elm sprout abundantly as a bonsai in summer. The many shoots cannot stay on the tree. They will be removed and disposed of. But they are also wonderful for propagating this Asian tree.

  • Take cuttings from June to August
  • woody long shoots with 5-7 leaves are ideal
  • remove lower leaves
  • plant in 70% peat and 30% mineral substrate
  • water well
  • keep warm in a mini greenhouse
  • alternatively cover with foil

diseases and pests

Aphids and scale insects might like the mini tree. But only care mistakes weaken the bonsai in such a way that these pests have an easy time. Too warm wintering is an invitation to spider mites. Check the tree regularly for uninvited visitors. Given its modest size, this should take little time and therefore be feasible for everyone.

As soon as you discover pests, you should immediately take appropriate control measures. There are a number of pesticides available on the market. Let us advise you.

Spider mite infestation

Common grooming mistakes

Chinese elm is often sold in bulk. It is not uncommon for the care instructions given to be inadequate or completely absent. Anyone who does not independently obtain information about the necessary care from reliable sources can quickly make care mistakes. In the worst case, they can shorten the life of the bonsai to a few months.

Too warm hibernation

Even if the Chinese elm is sold as an indoor bonsai, it does not like consistently warm temperatures. But this is exactly what she finds in our living rooms. During this time, it produces shoots that are characterized by long internodes and disfigure the crown. Internodes are the leafless sections of the stem axis between two nodes. Pests can also increase.

  • cut off these shoots
  • Keep bonsai cooler
  • check for pests
  • take countermeasures if necessary

Wrong substrate

The elm often takes root in the wrong substrate. Specimens that are stuck in loamy soil are often sold commercially. This gives them support and makes transport easier. However, if this soil dries out, the bonsai's supply is cut off. he enters

  • Repot Ulmus parvifolia at home promptly
  • don't wait years to do it
  • use suitable bonsai soil

oversupply of water

No water should stand in the pot of the bonsai any longer. In winter, its need also decreases because the plant is dormant. The cooler it is, the less water it needs. If you don't adjust the amount of water now, you run the risk of waterlogging. This is followed by root rot, which can cause the bonsai to die.

  • Repot Chinese elm in fresh substrate
  • cut off all rotting roots beforehand
  • reduce pouring amount

Poor fertilizer supply

Many new bonsai owners have misconceptions when it comes to nutritional requirements. Little or no fertilizer is given to keep it small. But even the miniature Chinese elm needs nutrients. The size is only achieved with the use of scissors. It can also be wrong to use fertilizers with too many salts. This draws water out of the tree.

  • use special bonsai fertilizer
  • follow the dosage recommendations
  • repot freshly if overfertilized

Too small pot

The root system of an Ulmus parvifolia often requires more space than it is allowed to. The space available in the pot should be about the same as the space occupied by the crown. But not even the trade takes this to heart, where we are often offered the Chinese elm in bowls that are too small. This care error is continued unnoticed when repotting. Correct this deficiency promptly.

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