Chinese Elm Bonsai Care Guide

The Chinese Elm tree originated in Asia, specifically, in China. It’s extremely popular and suitable for bonsai purposes. The Chinese Elm bonsai is actually a pretty good bonsai for a beginner as well. So, how do you look after the Chinese elm bonsai?

To take care of a Chinese Elm Bonsai, keep in mind the following:

  •  It can grow indoors and outdoors, but an indoor bonsai will need much more attention. The idea is to replicate subtropical conditions indoors.
  • Water this bonsai with the ‘soak and dry’ method, but note that only the top of the soil needs to be dry before beginning a cycle.
  • This bonsai tolerates a range of environments. It thrives, however, with adequate light, stable temperatures and moderate humidity.

Let’s take a more nuanced look at the Chinese elm bonsai, its proper care, and the most common questions about it.

Chinese Elm Bonsai Caring Guidelines

Placement: Outdoors versus Indoors

The Chinese elm bonsai is very durable. Having said that, if grown outdoors, they will do much better and thrive. Indoors Chinese Elm bonsais need a lot more attention to have the right environment, particularly adequate lighting. The idea is to replicate outdoors subtropical conditions for indoor bonsai trees.

Can Chinese elm bonsai be kept indoors?

The answer is yes, although we must give them a lot more attention. Indoors Chinese elms may be taken outside during summer, to take in some sunlight. Conversely, outdoors Chinese elms should be brought inside during winter, particularly if conditions are very frosty.  


Watering a Chinese elm tree can be challenging. Both underwatering and overwatering a bonsai may harm it. Although the Chinese elm tree is indeed quite hardy and durable, we want to water it just right. 

The Chinese elm can live in soil that is well-drained, moist or even wet. It can even resist droughts. Now then, having said that, it’s a good idea to follow some sort of procedure to water the Chinese elm bonsai. It’s important to remember that the Chinese elm doesn’t need a set schedule for watering. 

chinese elm bonsai

Instead, we need to wait for the soil to dry off at the top. This is because Chinese elm bonsais will simply vary in their watering needs. The first thing to do, therefore, is to check the soil. Is the top of the soil dry? If so, we can begin a water cycle.  

How often should you water a Chinese elm bonsai?

Several experts recommend a method of ‘soak and dry’. This means that we want to water this bonsai only when the soil is dry. Once the soil is dry, we water the bonsai and then wait for it to dry off before the next watering cycle. It’s essential to be very careful with this process. Drought in this bonsai tree is something to be avoided, as is permanent and excessive moistness of the soil.

Now then, typically, the ‘soak and dry’ method is used when all the soil is dry. This usually means checking the totality of the soil by inserting some sort of moisture meter or chopstick vertically into the soil. In the case of the Chinese elm, however, such a strict approach is not necessary. Instead, it’s best to simply check the top of the soil. If it’s dry, then we can water.

Best time to water the Chinese elm bonsai

The best time to water this bonsai is in the mornings. This is because of the cool temperature in the morning that allows for the absorption of the water. As the day goes on, water evaporation will decrease the amount of water that the bonsai can absorb.


Some Chinese elm bonsai owners like to use a sprinkler attachment to water it, making several passes. The first pass simply is about watering and letting that water stand on the surface, seep into the soil and come out of the drainage hole. After 10-20 minutes later, a second pass is made, much like the first. Some owners will make a third pass in the case of very dry and hardened soil.


The Chinese elm bonsai prefers soil which drains relatively well. A typical potting soil mix will usually do the trick.


The Chinese elm shows particularly robust growth if there is good sunlight. Partial shade, however, is also acceptable. It can even tolerate mild winters outdoors, although this is not advisable.


Regarding temperature, there are some things to remember. First of all, the Chinese elm is usually found in subtropical climates. This means several things. 

The Chinese elm bonsai doesn’t like drafts. A stable temperature of around 60 to 70 F (15 to 20 C) is quite good. During the summer months, the bonsai may be kept outside, although it’s best not to let it endure cold nights.

Chinese Elm Bonsai Advanced Caring Guidelines


In the case of pruning, there are some things to remember. It’s important to know that, left unchecked, the Chinese elm grows freely and thickens quite rapidly. A good time to prune is usually late autumn.

Refrain from pruning this bonsai if it’s unhealthy. Also, if the tree has just been repotted, it’s best not to prune just yet.


Leaves are a great indicator of the general health of a Chinese elm bonsai. Sometimes it’s quite normal for leaves to fall off from the tree. There are other times; however, when what happens to the leaves is an indicator of poor health.

Do Chinese elm bonsai lose their leaves in winter?

To understand this question properly, we need to realize that sometimes the Chinese elm will naturally lose its leaves. This happens when there are very old leaves that naturally drop from the bonsai.

Another situation in which leaves fall naturally is during the first three weeks after bringing a bonsai to a new environment. The tree will simply acclimatize and thus shed some of the old leaves.

Another natural way of losing leaves is winter. The Chinese elm will generally shed leaves from September, onwards. These situations are quite normal and nothing to worry about. The Chinese elm bonsai will stabilize in about 4-5 weeks after losing leaves and start showing new growth.

Chinese elm bonsai yellow leaves

Underwatering in particular will make leaves yellow. To find out if the bonsai is indeed lacking in water, simply put a finger about one inch deep into the soil. If the soil is dry, water the bonsai tree.


Nutrition of our Chinese elm bonsais is important. The bonsai growing season demands excellent nutrition in particular. In the case of the fertilizer, a combination of solid organic fertilizer and a liquid chemical product often works well.


Young Chinese elms should be repotted every couple of years. In the case of older bonsais, repotting can be done at longer intervals. As with other bonsai trees, repotting is best during spring. 

Sometimes, in the case of a bonsai trees suffering from overwatering, we may need to repot too. This is because there may be a lot of dead roots that may need to be pruned.


The Chinese elm bonsai may be affected by several pests. Spider mites and scale may appear when there is low humidity. To get rid of them, try using some rubbing alcohol on a cotton swab (don’t let it drip into the soil and roots though). Note that thinned lime-sulfur or systemic pesticides can harm the Chinese elm, making it lose all its leaves.

What are the little flies around my Chinese elm bonsai?

These little flies are called gnats. They are quite common when the bonsai is being overwatered.

To get rid of them simply stop watering until the soil dries out completely. After that, start watering in more adequate cycles, like we describe in this article.

Some owners use ‘sticky pads’ and fly tape. If the gnats persist, it’s a good idea to apply insecticide, but only as a last resort.

Related Questions

Weak or little growth in your Chinese Elm Bonsai?

Sometimes, we’ll notice that our bonsai tree exhibits very little growth. Pretty soon, small branches start to die and leaves turn yellow and fall off.

If our Chinese elm bonsai exhibits these signs, it may be due to overwatering. Although, as we pointed out earlier, this type of bonsai is very durable, overwatering may still happen and it is a complicated scenario.

Overwatering may occur because watering is done too often, or because drainage is very defective. This causes roots to drown and rot. The simple remedy is to stop watering the bonsai tree. We need to let the soil dry off completely, before we start another cycle of watering (like we described earlier in this article).

Sometimes though, even this won’t be enough. In this case, we may even have to consider repotting the bonsai and pruning the roots.  

Is my Chinese Elm bonsai tree dead?

Underwatering will usually weaken a Chinese elm tree. In such a situation, the plant will look wilted and fragile. Eventually, underwatering will make the leaves dry and brittle. If this persists, the bonsai may die.

It’s important that if this wilting of the bonsai tree is taking place, we increase watering. Two watering sessions per day will begin to heal our bonsai and bring it back to life. 

Sometimes underwatering is so severe that the leaves will be extremely brittle and fragile. In this case, it’s a good idea to immerse the bonsai in water, up to the pot’s rim. What this does is absolutely and rapidly soak the soil, without losing water through the drainage hole.

How can I tell the difference between the Chinese elm and the Zelkova?

The Chinese elm is frequently confused with the Zelkova. The key is in the leaves; while the Zelkova has single-toothed leaves, the Chinese elm has double-toothed leaves.

Is propagating the Chinese elm bonsai difficult?

Not at all. This bonsai can be propagated much like we propagate other bonsai trees. The idea is to so by the usual method of cuttings.

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Sebastian Moncada

I’m also a plant enthusiast and researcher. I’ve been privileged to have lived my whole life around the wilderness of Colombia and I’m happy to share everything I learn along the way. “Adopt the pace of nature. Her secret is patience” – Emerson.

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