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Pruning a Chinese elm bonsai is very easy and easy to learn even for beginners. Here we show how simple it is. A Chinese elm is a tree bonsai where you can learn and practice cutting of a bonsai very well.

Bonsai of the Chinese elm (Ulmus parvifolia, Zelkova parvifolia) are among the most frequently bought bonsai in Europe. They are very robust and vigorous bonsai trees. With optimal bonsai care a Chinese elm grows in summer about 15cm per month. For this reason, they usually have to be cut back three times a year. In this article you can see how easy it is to cut an elm bonsai.

Usually the Chinese elm is overwintered as an indoor bonsai. Due to the high temperatures in the apartment, an elm tree consumes a lot of energy in winter.

To get enough energy (sugar) by photosynthesis before winter, we cut a Chinese elm only until mid August.

After that we let the bonsai tree grow, overwinter it (at about 6-8°C or like a mediterranean bonsai more cool in a unheated plastic tent) and prune it next February, shortly before the new shoots come out.

Helpful hint: Don't overwinter a bonsai of the Chinese elm too warm. A very bright and very cool location is optimal. Even light frosts are tolerated by this bonsai tree species.


The plant shown here was imported in a refrigerated container at the end of January and had no new leaves. At the end of February it sprouted well and fast.

At the beginning of March the fertilizing was started. We fertilize daily with a fertilizer doser over the water. A lot of nitrogen fertilizer is given until the beginning of August. An elm bonsai is happy about this and it grows enormously.


The first, structural pruning was made in early June. Until then the shoots were already 20cm long.

Until the beginning of July the Chinese elm was allowed to grow. The second cut shown here was made in the second week of July. If the bonsai is not bought before, a 3rd pruning takes place in the 2nd week of August.

It is nice to see the development within 5 months. The crown is noticeably denser after only 2 cuts.

At the moment the top of the bonsai is still a bit too heavy, too strong. Therefore, next year we should make sure that the two lower main branches increase in width a little bit. Alternatively, the tip cushion could be reduced a little further.

Step by step



With sufficient bonsai fertilizer, not only the bonsai grows quickly, but also the weeds. It was removed before pruning.


Before pruning a bonsai, the direction of development must be considered.

With this elm bonsai a basic form (Moyogi shape = Informal upright bonsai style) was given.

Planning before pruning

We didn't want to change this shape much. After all, the tree is a bonsai for sale that does not stay long with us in our bonsai nursery.

A fundamental redesign would go beyond the time and price limits of such a Chinese elm bonsai. Therefore, we normally leave the given basic shape and only cut back to it. But this alone improves the quality of the Chinese elm bonsai significantly in a short time.

Due to the very soft wood for pruning an chinese elm bonsai a sharp bonsai scissor is required. With it you simply cut along the basic shape. Individual main branches can be worked out somewhat. The resulting cushions should run out slightly to the outside.


Chinese elm bonsai have very soft wood and the shoots quickly become woody. It is often easier to hold the shoots with one hand and cut them with the other.

Pruning a Chinese elm

The entire pruning, including the cleaning of the bonsai pot from weeds, takes only 5-10 minutes for an experienced bonsai enthustiast and 30-60 minutes for an inexperienced beginner. All in all only a little effort every year and easy to master even for beginners.

Since the Chinese elm grows stormy, errors that have occurred during cutting can be compensated within a few months. The important thing is that the care must be right, that means the tree needs plenty of light, sufficient fertiliser and water during the growing period and plenty of light and cool temperatures during winter.

After pruning in August you can wire the bonsai. The bonsai wire can usually remain on the tree until next spring. Since the wood of the elms is very soft, it is important that after the Chinese elm has been wired and the branches have been realigned, the wire remains on the tree for a long time. If the bonsai wire is removed too early, the branches quickly bend back into the starting position.

If the Chinese elm is wintered in an unheated glass house, the late autumn after the leaves fall is also a good time to wire it. Without leaves this work is much easier to do and the structure of the branches is also easier to see.

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