Chinese Elm (Ulmus parvifolia) is an excellent choice for the beginner bonsai enthusiast. Chinese Elm is one of the few deciduous trees that can be grown successfully indoors. Hardy and durable, it is forgiving of the novice's pruning and cultivating mistakes. Originally from east Asia, Chinese Elm has mottled gray bark and small, green, leathery leaves. Reaching a height of approximately 50 feet outdoors, Chinese Elm puts on a colorful autumn display. Grown indoors, the leaves of the Chinese Elm bonsai stay green year-round.
Chinese Elm bonsai grows well in the average home with temperatures around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the tree in a sunny, well-lit area. A south- or west-facing window is ideal. Turn the tree a quarter-turn per week, so that every side gets some exposure to full light.
Deciduous trees do benefit from a rest period during the winter. While your Chinese Elm bonsai would appreciate lower winter temperatures around 60 to 65 F, it is not crucial. Some leaves might drop if the tree is exposed to a cooler environment. This is normal and actually contributes to the vigor of the tree.
Chinese Elm does best in soil that is kept evenly moist but not soggy. Be careful not to overwater. Excessive water promotes root rot. Because of its hardiness, Chinese Elm can endure a little dryness better than it can being overwatered.
Chinese Elm bonsai is healthier and grows more vigorously when you provide your tree with extra humidity. Set the tree on a gravel tray filled with water. Never place the pot directly in water. Bonsai pots should have feet, raising them above the water and providing for good drainage.
Care and Maintenance
Fertilize weekly during spring and summer while the plant is actively growing. Reduce feedings to once a month during fall and winter when the tree is in its resting period. Chinese Elm bonsai don't need pruning until the plant is at least one year old. After that, pruning can be done year-round as needed.
Where to Buy
It is best to buy your tree from a bonsai nursery. At a nursery, you can find Chinese Elms that have been raised in the environment that best suits their characteristics. Experts are available for advice and guidance. Reputable garden centers also stock the more popular bonsai and their plants are usually well maintained.
The barks of Chinese Elms vary from smooth to rough. The novice might want to choose a tree with rougher bark as they are generally hardier and easier to grow indoors than the smoother varieties.
Try to find out the tree's approximate age when you purchase your plant. This information will help you determine when to begin pruning.
Ask when the tree was last fertilized. Just as with watering, you want to be careful to avoid overfeeding.