the way of the forest: chinese elm

Sneak Peek

Forest bonsai are wonderful! And Chinese elm is one of the best species you can pick for the style.

The Way of the Forest: Chinese Elm

I love forest-style bonsai! In fact, they are probably my favorite. You can make forest bonsai out of just about any species, but for my money Chinese elm is the best. They grow fast, are tolerant of less than exacting horticultural practices, and with naturally small leaves they produce wonderful proportions in the forest setting.

With that said, of course, every forest has to start somewhere. Most are built from one- to three-gallon specimens of whatever species you’re using. Those specimens are typically straight and tall for the trunk diameter. And they have varying degrees of branching at the start.

This forest, along with the one shown below, came about in an unusual way. I discovered an interesting feature of Chinese elm I had never heard of before, namely, that when you lift them from a ground growing bed they tend to sprout new trunks from all those severed roots. So unless you stay after those root shoots they’ll end up producing something along the lines of what you might call a “fairy ring” forest.

This photo is from August of 2020. I had lifted the forest as a group earlier that year, and grown it out in a nursery pot. By August I figured it could slide over into a forest tray, because all I needed to do was build branching and ramification. No trunk thickening, in other words, which does not occur in a restricted space.


The year 2021 was one of growing and building for this specimen. One thing you can expect from Chinese elm, and that’s vigor. Another thing you can expect from the species is ramification and leaf-size reduction. What’s really nice about it is, the characteristic growth habit of the tree is more bush than anything else. Given the choice, a Chinese elm will produce a lot of small leaves rather than a few large ones. We bonsai artists are all about that!

Here’s this specimen today. That’s quite a transformation in two years!

This is another example of a tall-tree Chinese elm forest made the same way as the first. You can see the potential in this one just as the other. Nothing to brag about yet, but it’s a start.

This is an “intermediate-stage” photo from March of 2021. If you compare this shot with the one above, you can see just how fast good things start happening with Chinese elm forests.

And the latest photo, from today. It’s nothing short of incredible just how quickly these trees develop. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that this Chinese elm forest bonsai looks just like a Chinese elm forest! Would you agree?

Both of these forests are available in our Shop.