Bonsai pruning of Chinese elm

Bonsai cutback at the Chinese Elm - General:

Bonsai of the Chinese elm (Ulmus parvifolia) are among the most frequently bought bonsai in Germany. They are imported in large quantities, mostly from Dutch wholesalers, and sold through the retail trade. They are very robust and vigorous bonsai. Optimally kept a China elm Bonsai 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 indoor. Due to the high temperatures in the room, the elm consumes a lot of energy in winter. To get enough energy (sugar) by photosynthesis before winter, we cut bonsai of the Chinese elm only until mid August. After that we let the tree grow, overwinter it (at about 6-8°C) and cut it next February, shortly before the shoot.

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.

Chinese elm pruning - prehistory of the bonsai shown:

  • We import all our indoor bonsai directly from Asia, mostly from China. 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 (see picture 1) it sprouted well and fast.
  • At the beginning of March 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.
  • 1. drastic cutback at the beginning of 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.

Figure 1: Overview of the elm bonsai: After purchase in February, before cutting in July and after pruning. It is nice to see the development within 5 months. The crown is noticeably denser after only 2 cuts.
Bonsai pruning of Chinese elm

Figure 2: With sufficient fertilizer, not only the bonsai grows quickly, but also the weeds. It was removed before pruning.
Bonsai pruning of Chinese elm

Before cutting a bonsai, the direction of development must be considered. With this elm bonsai a basic form was given. We didn't want to change this shape much. After all, the tree is a commodity for sale that does not stay long with us in the bonsai school. A fundamental redesign would go beyond the time and price limits of such a Chinese elms bonsai. Therefore, we normally leave the given basic shape and only cut back to it. But this alone improves the bonsai significantly in a short time.

Figure 3: For pruning the crown of an elm bonsai a wide bonsai scissor is best. 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.
Bonsai pruning of Chinese elm

Figure 4: Chinese elms 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.
Bonsai pruning of Chinese elm

The entire pruning, including the cleaning of the soil surface from weeds, takes only 5-10 minutes for an experienced bonsai enthustiast, and 30-60 minutes for an inexperienced beginner. All in all a small expenditure annually and also for beginners into the hobby Bonsai well to master.

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, ie. plenty of light, sufficient fertiliser and water during the growing period and plenty of light and not too high temperatures during the resting phase.