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How to Work on Chinese Elm Mini-Bonsai

How to Work on Chinese Elm Mini-Bonsai

Elm Mini Bonsai Phutu

Mini-bonsai less than 3" in any dimension are called Mame, a word that literally means "bean" in Japanese. When designed well, these trees are not just super-cute; they can also look very interesting and realistic. Keeping proportions tight is both a challenge and the most important factor in styling mini-bonsai, because for almost all tree species mame bonsai pushes the limits of the size of the foliage or leaves.

As the growing season kicked off in late March 2020, we focused on pruning four Chinese elm mini-bonsai. These trees were all cuttings taken 18 months prior (October 2018) from overgrown branching on a larger bonsai, so they had good character to begin with. We needed to cut off all the new growth and some of the old growth because the proportions of the trees were simply too loose to make really good mini-bonsai. Here is where we started in March 2020:

Cutting back past the foliage on an elm will nearly always induce lots of buds to come out from the trunk. For this tree, the small bulge at the branch junction was distracting, so we eliminated it.

About 2.5 weeks later it was already apparent that the trees would push a nice burst of new growth low on the trunks as we had desired. Here is our example:

After another month of growth, the new shoots have hardened off; they're no longer very tender. Here is what they looked like before work, May 19th, 2020.

At this point, we could allow the trees to grow more, or cut them back again to force more divisions in the branches. We elected to do more cutback:

With mini-bonsai, as long as you can keep them from drying out and losing vigor in tiny pots, the amount of branching needed is so minimal that it doesn't take long to develop.

Next, we'll wait for new shoots to emerge and allow them to elongate while being sure to remove multiple shoots in any one area to avoid swelling. During summer we take extra care to ensure our mini-bonsai don't dry out.  


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  • Charlie on

    As the trees progress over the years the photo sequence will be very educational. Can you show different ways to to keep small trees properly watered and protected during the hot months of the year and Aldo those really nasty heat waves we have experienced in the last couple of years. BTW, excellent photo quality.


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