Caring For Your Chinese Elm Bonsai

Chinese Elms are one of the easiest bonsai trees to care for.

  • Watering: The reason bonsai trees die is usually because they have not been watered properly. It is vital that water reaches the roots. The first step is to pour water onto the soil. This will almost certainly run off, but it will have dampened the top of the soil. Wait 10 seconds and repeat. Again, most will run of, but some will seep into the soil. Wait another 10 seconds, then gently add water so that it seeps into the soil. Keep slowly pouring until water starts to drip out of the holes in the bottom of the pot, you have now watered your tree. Do this every 2-3 days, more often if your tree is placed in full sunshine, less often in winter, especially when the tree loses its leaves. If you keep your tree outside it will still need watering. Don’t rely on rainfall, a shower of rain will not reach the roots.
  • Dormancy: Chinese Elm bonsai are deciduous and will lose their leaves in winter for a few weeks – the leaves usually turn yellow prior to falling. Don’t panic!. It is important that at that time you allow the tree to rest in a cooler temperature if you are keeping your tree indoors. If possible place in the garden for 3-4 weeks. If this is not possible, place in the coolest room away from a radiator. Some people keep their tree in a fridge during dormancy! Your tree has not died, it will start to grow more leaves after a few weeks. Water once a week when dormant. If you try to fool your Chinese Elm into thinking it is summer all year by not resting the tree, its health will suffer. If you really can’t find a suitable place to keep your tree during its dormancy, you may wish to look at other bonsai which do not have the need for a dormant period.
  • Position: You can keep your Chinese Elm indoors or outside all year. If kept indoors the tree will need good light, on a sunny windowsill is fine, but try to avoid placing the tree above a radiator. If placed on a south facing windowsill the tree will dry out more quickly and need watering more often.
  • Pruning: Trim the leaves to keep the tree looking its best. Ideally cut the number of leaves back to 2 to encourage thicker leaf growth.
  • Feeding: There is no need to buy expensive bonsai plant food, a normal plant food will do. We use two: Vitafeed 301 from early march to the end of June – this feed is high in nitrogen which encourages leaf growth, which is what you want. From then to the end of October we use Vitafeed 111, a more balanced plant food that will strengthen your tree in preparation for winter. These plant foods are available from garden centres and Amazon. Do not feed during the winter months.
  • Wiring: If you want to shape your tree wind thin wire around a branch and gently bend it to the required shape. Instead of wire you can use string or wool if the tree is kept indoors to change the elevation of a branch – just wind the other end of the string/wool to another branch. Be gentle.
  • Repotting: Move your tree to a larger pot every couple of years. Do this while the tree is dormant (when it doesn’t have leaves), and use a gritty compost to encourage drainage.