How To: Create and Maintain a Chinese Elm Bonsai (Part 1)

The Chinese Elm or Ulmus Parvifolia, is a tree that many bonsai enthusiasts have in their collection. It seems it’s one of those trees that’s synonymous with bonsai as is the Black Pine, only a lot easier to care for and style. That’s not to say though that it’s a tree that you can take lightly in the way of creating a good specimen, or by any means in the health and maintenence department. Chinese elms are prone to both Scale and a leaf fungus known as Black Spot. Later I will show you two examples of two different kinds of Scale to look out for.

Many beginners will start out with a small chinese elm because they are sold rather cheap at bonsai nurseries, mainly because they have had hardly any styling work done on them. Bigger ones on the other hand which have had some training, will usually fetch a much higher price.

The reason why you don’t see too many wonderful chinese elm specimens is because most enthusiasts, especially the beginners, don’t give the tree the time it needs to be trained into one. Most chinese elms when purchased, have no ramification on their branches. Instead they usually have branches that are long and wiry looking. These branches will need to be trained and cut back as you see in this photo.

There are generally two ways you can style the chinese elm, and that is like the Chinese do with their very tight foliage and really nice looking leaf pads,

or like the typical lean looking Japanese style where more of the branch structure is showing.

Either way you choose to go, time will be needed for training. Five years will usually be the minimum for a good looking specimen. This photo shows a chinese elm purchased in 1999.

This next one shows the same tree in 2004, five years later with the tight foliage look. It still has a way to go yet before I consider it finished.

Many people have asked me how I get such tight foliage on my chinese elms. The trick is, there is no trick. You simply clip and grow and clip and grow. This of course is done only on branches that are already of the desired length.

Here is an example of another very tight leafed chinese elm.

And here is how you would style this tree by simply clipping the tree to shape with your bonsai scissors.

This will induce new buds to re grow which will be much smaller and tighter, and cause the new branching to be the same way also.

After a few years you will have a wonderful array of fine branches at the tips of your primary and secondary branches which will allow you to enjoy your chinese elm just as much in the Winter as in the Spring and Summer as you see here.

As for the other style where you don’t want the tight look, you will trim the branch as you see here so as to keep the tree in perfect balance.

Each branch will be viewed and trimmed back accordingly.

Part 2

Continue Reading: Part 2

About Thomas J.

I started doing bonsai in 1991 after buying my first Chine Elm from Dallas Bonsai, who at the time was selling trees and supplies at a local mall.

At the time I was mostly interested in deciduous trees but after a few years moved up to working on junipers. My last holdout was the Japanese Black Pine which I began to work with in 2007 after acquiring a specimen from a friend.

I've had a few of my trees published in the "Gold Awarded Penjing of the World". Some call bonsai an art and some call it a craft, but for me it's a little of both with some high anxiety thrown in, at others times a world of peace and beauty right outside my backdoor.

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