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. Excellent story, and what a beautiful tree. I also have a Siberian Elm, trying to care for it as best as I can. Any basic tips would be great.

    1. Mike Jones

      Hi Matt

      Thank you. A fairly ‘bomb-roof’ tree so you can prune heavily, leaf strip, feed hard, root prune VERY hard. Did you have anything specific regarding tips that you may have wanted to know?


  2. Dave Verbik

    Hello Mike! This is a very nice elm. Elms are my favorite tree for bonsai. However, I have heard several people say that Siberian elms are not ideal for bonsai culture because there is a lot of die back and they drop branches over time. Have you found this to be true. I have several Siberian elms in my area – they grow all over the place. Best wishes to you and yours.



    1. Mike Jones

      Hello Dave.

      Thanks for leaving a comment. Actually no, so long as you keep light and air getting further than the outside of the tree you will not get die-back other than odd bits when winters are very hard.


  3. What a lovely tree! And a brilliant record of its development. Great to follow this most instructive story, not the least interesting part of which is you have done it all by clip and grow!

    Thanks Mike. J.

    1. Mike Jones

      John, you are very kind. I have actually removed this year the substantial lower right hand branch and as a consequence for the first time I have applied some light wiring to pull down the branches immediately above the severed branch. This will fill the are quite quickly. I could have ‘clipped’ it all but wanted a quicker result in case it was selected for BOBB this year … which it has. I repotted today, and am currently writing some editorial with pictures that I will enter onto the repotted trees section.

      Thank you again John.


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