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We have just received a message from Simon about the leaf drop on his large Chinese Elm indoor bonsai.
It was delivered a few days ago and some of the old leaves are dropping.
We just wanted to give you all reassurance that this is nothing to be concerned about.
It is perfectly normal for a Chinese Elm to drop the old leaves during the first 3 weeks of delivery. It just re-acclimatises to its new position and is nothing to be concerned about.
Another reason it may drop more leaves in September or October is that the days are getting shorter so it feels a bit autumnal.
It will stabilize and in 4-5 weeks lots of new buds will emerge and then it will get going again.
The Chinese Elm (Ulmus parvifolia) does a leaf drop far more dramatically than other varieties (some bonsai, such as the Ficus, barely drop at all). However, it buds back quickly and makes a beautiful bonsai. Please do not let this put you off growing a Chinese Elm, in our opinion the character and beautiful proportions (combined with the ease of care) make it one of the best indoor bonsai varieties.

Do you have any questions about your bonsai? Send us an email with a few photos!

10 replies

  1. I have a problem with lost leaves on my chinese elm too. I’ve actually had it a year and it was doing well, but around late Oct/Nov it dropped most of its leaves when it suddenly went colder. It revived a bit initially and some new growth was coming through, but then that went and it lost all its leaves. I’ve been careful not to under or over water, it’s indoors and I’ve used bonsai feed when it was actively growing (though not over winter) but several months on I’m wondering if it’s dead. I made a few nicks in the trunk however and there’s still green underneath. When (and if!) can I expect to see leaves growing again? Thanks

    1. Dear Scott.
      If the cambium layer is green then the bonsai is alive. When the leaves drop are there any symptoms of colour change, small spiders webs, mottled or crispy leaves?
      Please keep the soil damp (not wet) whilst it has no leaves on it and when you see new leaves emerge I would start feeding regularly with a bonsai feed.
      I shall wait to hear from you. Kind regards Sarah

  2. Hi. I live in zone 9 (NC, USA). Within one week, many of the leaves on my Chinese Elm have turned yellow and are starting to drop. I’d say ~75% have now dropped. However, new buds are also sprouting throughout the tree. I do know that Last week it rained hard for a couple days, and due to being on the side of my house, the overflow from the rain messed with the soil (akadama mix) a lot. Before this began it was hot, humid, and muggy for ~1 week. I ended up moving the location of the tree. I’ve been giving it organic feeding approximately 1 to 2 times biweekly. Also, it doesn’t seem to be taking as much water right now. The other night I took out of pot to check for root damage but all looked well. I also sprayed with triple action neem oil.

    1. Hi Michael,
      The leaf drop is probably seasonal. This would not affect the new growing tips.
      Please take care not to over-water. When leaves drop the requirement for water is also reduced.
      It is great that you have new buds – please give them 3-4 weeks to fully open and continue with the feeding,

      I hope this helps
      kind regards
      Sarah – Bonsai Direct

  3. Hi, I bought a Chinese elm tree in July and now all the leaves have gone off the tree. It has new buds coming through however these eventually die off also. I’m unsure what to do at this stage.

  4. Hi Benjamin,
    Please could you email some photos so I can check them symptoms and we can go from there.
    kind regards

  5. Hi
    could you please help with my Elm bonsai. leaves always drop down, i can’t understand why?
    My lemon bonsai not fruiting from three years, Could you please help?

    1. Dear Mika,
      Leave drop on a Chinese Elm can be has various causes.
      I hope this trouble shooting link helps you :
      Without seeing a photo it is not possible for me to diagnose the issue. At this time of year is could be seasonal if it only affects the old leaves and not the new growing tips.
      I suspect the issue with the lemon tree has something to do with the correct fertiliser but this is not a species we grow.
      Kind regards

  6. Hi
    Our Chinese elm is losing its leaves ! We went away for a week and have come back to find lots of leaves have dropped. The cambium layer is still green – should we be worried that a weeks drought has killed it ? Or do you think it will recover on its own ?


    1. Hi Heidi,
      A bonsai will lose leaves if you leave if unwatered for a week.
      Here is the information on what to do when you go on holiday:

      Here is the information on what to do now it has dried out:
      I hope this helps
      kidn regards

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