Posted on: 16 Feb 2021 by Greenwood Bonsai Studio
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The Chinese Elm is one of the most common varieties of Bonsai. Elms grows fast making it easy to build up a dense foliage mass by pruning alone within a few years. With them being quite an adaptable species they are more tolerant to imperfect growing conditions. Fortunately due to their natural vigour they are very good at recovering from accidental neglect. This is what makes them ideal trees for beginners.
If something upsets a Chinese Elm they can often drop their leaves very quickly. Don’t panic, they are usually not dead and with correct care and attention will almost always leaf back within a few weeks.
Many Chinese Elm are mis-labelled and sold as Zelkova, which is a Japanese tree with similar serrated leaves. Genuine Zelkovas are rarely seen as Bonsai in the UK. One of the reasons for this is the importing of Elms was banned to stop the spread of Dutch elm disease.
Key Points/ Defining features
– Suits both indoor and outdoor conditions.
– Good for beginners
– One of the most tolerant for indoor care
– One of the fastest growing varieties
– Small leaves
Chinese elms are very tolerant of a wide variety of temperatures and climates. They can be grown year round in a light warm indoor location where they will stay in leaf and growing all year. Or they can also be grown outside where they will go dormant in winter. They have quite fleshy root systems therefore if grown outdoors it is advisable to protect the roots from frost.
In summer water daily for both indoor and outdoor trees.
During winter months check indoor trees daily to make sure the soil surface is not dry. Outdoor trees are unlikely to need much water once they have gone dormant. Although it is worth checking your trees often during dry winters.
Watering routines can vary depending on the temperature of your house.
Feed May to September with a low nitrogen feed. We would recommend a slow release granular feed such as phosmag. Sprinkle sparingly on the soil surface and replenish once completely dissolved. Alternatively you can use a liquid feed such as Maxicrop Bonsai Fertiliser.
New shoots on an Elm will extend in any direction with alternating leaves getting bigger as the shoot gets longer.
When pruning prune back new shoots to just after a leaf. You will then get one new shoot in the direction of that leaf.
A lot of the shaping can be done with trimming alone. General maintenance pruning is to probably trim back to 1-3 leaves on each new shoot. Woody branches and trunks are reasonable flexible and can be wired into position if necessary.
Avoid using garden centre “bonsai” compost that will generally not drain well enough.
Many newly imported bonsai from other retailers are often in inappropriate compost and should be re-potted at the next opportunity.
Use free draining bonsai soil e.g. our premixed compost or if you use Japanese soils they can be planted in neat Akadama.
For young Chinese Elms re-pot every 1-2 years
For older trees just as needed.
Chinese Elms should ideally be re-potted during early spring before they leaf out for outdoor trees, and any time during the winter for indoor trees.
You can tell a bonsai needs re-potting when the root system seems very dense and the roots have started to grow in a circle around the inside of the pot. You can see this by gently lifting the tree out of its pot. This should only be done during the re-potting season.
Other things to watch out for during the growing season are if your tree is drying out faster than usual or if its growth is less vigorous than usual.