Siberian Elm

Looking at a tree see its fruit; looking at a man see his deeds.

Siberian Proverb. Author Unknown

I purchased this rather stick thin Siberian Elm ‘Bonsai in 1987. At the time of purchase it had a rather large scar to the rear of the trunk – just above soil level; this would undoubtedly have been caused by the removal of a large unwanted bough – and of course to facilitate its entry into the pot that can be seen in this first picture.

Siberian Elm 1987

The pot that it can be seen in on the first picture is just 25cm in diameter; the height of the tree was approximately 25-30 in height so at that time … quite a small tree.

Of all the pre-Bonsai (Potensai) I have ever purchased this one has been an absolute dream to develop, all-be-it taking some time due to some ‘setbacks.’ My initial thoughts were to keep the approximate shape and develop from there. It had been pruned quite badly by whoever – and after much thinking & planning I felt a more fuller figure may well suit this particular tree.

The following picture is some  years after purchase, and development was starting. This species is a ‘clip-and-grow,’ rather than out-&-out wiring to achieve shape, and more importantly – ramification.

Siberian Elm 1997

As you can see from the following picture – the tree was potted into a much larger container, and whilst it remained high in this pot, there were roots to the base that had to be removed carefully over further repottings. The soil is Seramis (high baked clay) based for no other reason than I happened to have several bags that had been given to me by a fellow collector. He felt the colour was all wrong and wished to discontinue using the stuff. The remainder was at that time 30% Kyodama some chopped Sphagnum moss and propagating bark.

Normally, I would have created a dressing layer of Akadama (Japanese fired clay granules) but with the height in the pot this was not possible.

The following picture is one that defies logic. I had been making great progress with this tree, but was taken ill and rushed into hospital for major spine surgery, several prolapsed discs later; I now sport rods and screws that hold my back together.

I entrusted maintenance that year to a Bonsai ‘Master,’ but sadly he saw a different vision to the Elm than I, and immediately took to creating layers. This was not what I had in mind for the tree.

Siberian after hacking

The following pictures consist of constant work I carried out to remove the layers, and get back to where I had been regarding continuing progression. Clearly the style of this tree does not – and will never lend itself to being layered.

Siberian Elm

And the following year the Elm is placed in a much larger pot to allow a good season of growth prior to reducing foliage mass once again:

Siberian making progress

Ramification can be clearly seen in the next picture; this would have been taken towards Autumn time as the leaves can be seen beginning to change colour.

Siberian Ramification


Putting me back some four years, I managed with constant pinching to re-create ramification as seen above, and at last … almost twenty-five years later I am happy with this Bonsai. I am proud to call it a Bonsai as this year 2011 it has been short-listed as an exhibit to the Best of British Bonsai to be held at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.

At the time of writing I have not yet received the ‘nod’ to confirm it has made it through scrutinization to be an exhibit. I do remain hopeful however.

The Elm is now some 80cm in height and in the current pot which is quite large – it is a heavy ol beast. 2011 will see a further change of pot to a round one which was commissioned especially for the tree. I chose with the help of the potter an unglazed grey finish which I consider blends perfectly with the existing bark colour.

Once repotting has been completed around mid-March 2011 I will update this case-history with a photograph of the tree in its new pot.

Autumn 2010:


S.Elm Autumn 2010


In 2011 I potted the Elm into a mass produced round pot; mainly to see if it would work quite so well. Truth is, it didn’t; and so the Walsall Ceramics pot is once again home to my old friend. 

Siberian Elm May 17th 2012


11 thoughts on “Siberian Elm

  1. Mike Jones

    It is Dave. I use Melcourt Propagating bark which really is as good as it gets. Having so said, It is not easy to source without silly delivery costs. I use a blender and chop up decorative bark. Works a treat. Oh be sure to wash it well though before ‘er indoors’ wants to use it for food stuffs!

  2. Dave Purser

    Hello Mike,
    That’s great thanks. I have already stocked up with different types of grit to move away from 100% akadama and kanuma after reading your article on repotting your satski azalea. Is chopped bark normal mulching bark broken into smaller pieces?

    1. Roger Briggs

      Dave, if you decide to try the Melcourt product and you are within a reasonable distance of Evesham, you will find it at a horticultural sundriesman there. If you need a name I will find a recent receipt and let you know.

  3. Dave Purser

    Hello Mike,
    I bought a small Siberian Elm 2 years ago from a bonsai nursery, and it has this year developed
    black spots all over the leaves which have turned yellow and fallen early.I assume that it is a fungal problem due to the constant rain and the fact that it is planted into 100% akadama. I intend to either plant it into the garden this spring or into a large training pot with a more open mix to increase the size of the tree. Whichr option be more successful? Please advise, any tips would be most helpful.

    1. Mike Jones

      Hello Dave

      Thanks for the question. Generally with this particular species and similar to many other deciduous, inert soils such as Akadama whilst offering reasonably good free draining benefits, offer very little to nothing in way of nourishment. Trees in 100% Akadama frequently lose leaves early in the Autumnal calendar, and indeed can turn in the manner you describe. I see nothing wrong with 100% Akadama, but with S/Elms or Elms in particular they will fill a pot extremely quickly with new feeder roots. To your detriment, inert soils create an environment where by a newly formed root goes in search of three things.

      1. Air

      2. Moisture

      3. Food.

      It therefore follows that roots can be busy doing little else than getting air and water. Consequently you can see why you should include a good quality liquid food or … a surface solid food that breaks down over time supplying essential food and minerals the tree requires to grow well. I cannot really go into it in any great detail here as it really is a vast subject. For now though, add some chopped bark and a good quality grit, with both rounded and sharp particles. Do add some good quality minerals to the soil but be careful on balance or the tree will get too comfortable with being ‘spoon’ fed. The grit and bark will help keep air around the roots as 100% Akadama can break dow all too quickly sadly. It is not really the miracle soil that it is advertised as. Fine used properly though.

      Hope this helps you a little.


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