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If you were to push me and ask what my favorite bonsai tree subspecies is, I would say Chinese Elm. They are super easy to care for, can be kept indoors, and are ideal for beginners to the hobby. However, one crucial factor you must consider with these trees is what potting soil to use. So what is the best potting soil for a Chinese Elm bonsai?
The best potting soil for Chinese Elm bonsai is an inorganic sandy, clay, and grit soil mix. Mix 50% akadama clay, 25% pumice, and 25% volcanic ash rock for the best results. Organic soil, such as peat moss, can be added to increase the moisture of the Chinese Elm soil.
So why is this the best mix for Chinese Elm? And what should your potting soil for Chinese elm bonsai avoid? Keep reading to find out more!
Best potting soil for Chinese Elm bonsai?
Visit any bonsai store, and undoubtedly, the one tree you will see in all of them is the Chinese Elm.
Chinese Elm trees and bonsai are prevalent, being found in almost every climate globally, and so safe to say most bonsai owners own a Chinese Elm bonsai at some point in their life.
When I started to get to grips with my bonsai, a key question I had then was:: What was the best potting soil for Chinese Elm bonsai?
To get to the bottom of this, I got in touch with a few experts, visited my local botanical gardens, and have since undertaken a quick survey of 20 plant paladin readers to get to the bottom of this.
- Inorganic sandy bonsai soil mixes are the best potting soils for Chinese Elm bonsai.
- An inorganic mix of 50% akadama, 25% pumice, and 25% volcanic ash will give the best properties for Chinese Elm bonsai.
- This soil mix for almost every indoor deciduous bonsai, such as Ficus trees.
- The balance of sandy soil from the pumice and grit from the ash rock will allow perfect water retention, moisture flow, and aeration.
- All three of these are vital for healthy bonsai soil.
- Gardening sand, however, can be used as an alternative should you not have pumice available.
- Chinese Elm bonsai trees require moist soil to thrive, so an inorganic mix will allow the soil to remain moist in dry indoor environments.
- If you want your Chinese Elm bonsai to absorb more water, organic soil mixes or organic material such as peat moss can be mixed with inorganic soil. You can then add 25% of your soil mix for organic materials.
- Chinese Elm bonsai trees also prefer neutral soil, so it’s important to avoid soil mixes that contain heavy amounts of Sulfur, Aluminum Sulfate, or Chelated Iron which can transform the soil to become more acidic.
- You can create your potting soil significantly cheaper than purchasing store-bought bonsai soil simply by purchasing and mixing your stones.
All in all, however, Chinese Elm bonsai are incredibly resilient, meaning that they can tolerate both wet and dry soil and slightly alkaline acidic soil.
This means you don’t need to overthink the suitable soil for your Chinese elm bonsai.
This is a lot of information, so let’s explore this in more detail: especially if you want to optimize and create the best soil mix possible for your Chinese Elm.
What is the best Chinese Elm potting soil composition?
So what is the perfect soil composition for your Chinese Elm bonsai tree?
After all, Chinese Elm bonsai love both moist and dry soils.
On top of this, Chinese Elm bonsai are often kept indoors, meaning you have to account for the moisture that will be stripped away by dry air.
The soil needs to be neutral, which can rule out some soil material that can contaminate and make the solid severely alkaline or acidic.
The best potting soil mix for Chinese Elm bonsai is 50% akadama clay, 25% volcanic ash rock, and 25% pumice. These elements will allow for equal water retention, moisture flow, and aeration for your Chinese Elm bonsai.
While other bonsai species, such as Juniper, which prefers 100% inorganic bonsai soil, or Willow, which prefers organic bonsai soil, the Chinese Elm is unique because
Both organic and inorganic soil mixes will work well for it.
If then you want to add a bit of organic material to your Chinese elm bonsai, I would recommend the following:
Chinese Elm bonsai’s best organic potting soil mix is 25% akadama clay, 25% volcanic ash rock, 25% pumice, and 25% organic material ( such as peat soil).
Having some organic material then will create extra moisture in the potting soil, which can be vital should you live in a dehydrated home.
Gardeners’ sand can be used instead of pumice if it is unavailable or the akadama clay alone isn’t retaining water.
To explain why these different elements have been selected as the best Chinese Elm potting soil mix, I’ve created a table:
Inorganic Chinese Elm potting soil mix details
Why it is used in potting soil
Akadama is a clay created in Japan. Using akadama clay in your soil will ensure your tree gets all the nutrients vital to growing your bonsai. Using this, however, in a smaller percentage than 50% will ensure the tree does not become waterlogged.
Volcanic ash rock
Is fantastic at allowing moisture to flow through. Using volcanic ash rock and pumice in even parts will ensure that your bonsai can retail and let moisture pass through your tree quickly.
Is a small grit-like substance. Pumice is fantastic at retaining water and will be used to retain the water in your potting soil, ensuring your tree has an ample supply of moisture. Sand can also be used.
Top 3 picks for the best Chinese Elm bonsai potting soil
So now we know what the best Chinese Elm bonsai potting soil mixes are and what they contain.
What are the best picks to cut to the chase and buy a store-bought brand of potting soil?
Thankfully I’ve used quite a few different varieties of potting soil on my Chinese Elm over these past few years and have found the following three picks to be my top choice:
Best overall Chinese Elm bonsai potting soil
For me, the best overall potting soil I’ve found has got to be easter leafs akadama volcanic ash rock mix.
This soil mix contains a nice even mix of all the vital elements required in a perfect blend, meaning you have to worry about purchasing your types of rock separately, saving you a significant amount on cost.
On top of this, it is reasonably priced and comes in various sizes, meaning it won’t break the bank.
You can read more here. (link takes you to the Eastern Leaf website)
Best cheap option
Now, if you are in a rush and want a cheap and cheerful option for your Chinese Elm bonsai, then a brand I have used a few times – I was surprised by how good the spotting soil was – was Oupengs Potting soil mix.
This, too, contains an even mix of volcanic rock needed for Chinese Elm bonsai to thrive.
Please be aware, however, that this soil will likely need to be changed quite a bit more frequently than the others on this list.
You can grab it here. (link takes you to Amazon)
Best premium option
So, while the previous options will work well for 90% of weekend warrior bonsai owners, I recommend a premium brand to take your Chinese Elm bonsai to the next level.
For me, all things bonsai large stone Akadama, lava, and pumice mix are the best potting soil on the market.
They opt for giant stones, which ramp up the quality of the three vital elements ( water retention, moisture flow, and aeration) on not on;y Chinese Elm bonsai but any bonsai tree using an inorganic potting soil mix.
I have been testing this brand out recently, and I’m impressed by the results.
You can find out more about it here. (link takes you to all things bonsai’s website).
What makes up an excellent potting soil for Chinese Elm bonsai?
Understanding what makes up an excellent potting soil for Chinese Elm bonsai is vital, regardless of whether you agree with my suggestions.
We touched upon this earlier, but there are three key things that all great Chinese Elm potting soil require:
- Water retention.
Let’s explore these in more detail.
Aeration is the first element that all good Chinese Elm bonsai potting soils have.
Chinese Elm bonsai, like all trees, needs its roots to access air to help process food and grow effectively.
Failing to do so will lead to your roots becoming waterlogged and overwatered, causing root rot or fungal infections.
Potting soil for bonsai trees will have tiny gaps and air pockets from which your roots can grow and can further help with good bacteria and nutrient flow.
All great Chinese Elm potting soil will also have excellent drainage.
Water must flow evenly throughout the tree and avoid pooling in certain spots.
If the water does start to pool, this can lead to fungal infections such as root rot and prevent your Chinese Elm bonsai trees roots from absorbing nutrients from the soil.
As a side note, if you are worried that your potting soil isn’t draining correctly, consider investing in a shallow bonsai pot with plenty of holes that can aid in the drainage of your tree.
Good drainage will also prevent the build-up of elements such as chlorine which can increase the PH level of your soil, transforming it into a potentially dangerous alkaline mix.
While Chinese Elm can work with most soils that are both acidic or alkaline, you want to avoid building up to the point that it starts to impact the tree negatively.
Finally, the most crucial element for Chinese Elm bonsai must be the potting soil’s water retention ability.
While Chinese elm trees can handle wet waterlogged soil better than most trees, Chinese Elm bonsai trees, significantly smaller finger-tip-sized bonsai trees, are notorious for drying out.
These trees require a lot of sunlight, typically 4 to 8 hours daily.
As such, many of us keep these trees indoors near windows where a lot of light hits them throughout the day.
Cold air conditioning or hot heating from radiators or gas fires also strips away moisture.
Any potting soil you opt for then will require your potting soil to hold onto moisture as best as possible.
Failing to have potting soil that retains water for Chinese Elm can potentially kill your tree.
It’s one of the reasons why most bonsai owners recommend watering your bonsai every other day or using mosses such as sphagnum moss to increase the amount of moisture in your tree.
Any good bonsai potting soil mix then requires the ability to hold on to water to help give your tree moisture during periods when you are not watering your tree.
Remember only to water your bonsai when the topsoil is dry, as overwatering can also be quite common in bonsai.
Inorganic vs. organic potting soil for Chinese Elm bonsai?
So what exactly is better? Inorganic vs. organic potting soil for Chinese Elm bonsai.
You can use inorganic and organic potting soil mixes for Chinese Elm bonsai. Inorganic soil mixes have a slight advantage for Chinese Elm bonsai. An akadama, pumice, and volcanic rock mix will likely yield the best result of aeration, moisture retention, and flow.
However, one of the things I suggest for best results is adding 25% organic material, such as peat moss soil, to your bonsai potting soil – especially if you live in a warm environment.
This will allow your soil to have the perfect inorganic/organic soil mix and get the best of both worlds without significant disadvantages for either soil.
One of the best things about Chinese Elm bonsai is their resilience; they can still thrive even if you use a less-than-optimal soil mix.
Inorganic Soil Mix
Organic soil mix
Is Great for trees that need to be kept outdoors year-round such as Junipers.
Perfect for bonsai trees that are planted directly in the ground.
Lower chance of insect infestation
Higher chance of insect infestation
Lower nutrient content
Higher nutrient content
Beter for moisture flow
Better for moisture retention
What’s the difference between organic and inorganic Chinese Elm bonsai soil?
The big difference between organic and inorganic Chinese Elm potting soil is simply the material used in the soil.
Inorganic soil typically contains hard grit, such as volcanic ash rock, clay, lava rock, pumice, or sand.
Organic soil for Chinese Elm bonsai will typically contain a traditional soil element, such as peat moss soil, leaf mulch, compost, general potting soil, and a mix of some grit elements such as volcanic ash rock or sand.
What is a good organic soil mix for Chinese Elm bonsai soil?
So if you have decided to opt for an entirely organic bonsai soil mix, then ensure your organic Chinese Elm bonsai soil has the following mix:
30% organic material consists of peat soil, leaf mulch, general soil, 30% akadama clay, 30% volcanic rock, and 10% sand.
While it’s uncommon, using a soil mix that is 100% organic material, such as traditional soil made up of compost, would still work for your Chinese elm bonsai.
You need to be careful and be more observant of waterlogged roots and insect infestations.
How to make your Chinese Elm potting soil?
If you are tight on money but have the time, you can make your own Chinese Elm bonsai potting soil.
The following then will work well for a small one-handed Chinese Elm bonsai:
- Akadama clay (300g)
- Perlite (300g)
- Volcanic ash rock (300g)
- 100ml of water.
Start then by mixing the perlite and volcanic ash rock.
Place these into one bowl and, using your hand, mix until combined.
Once mixed, you then want to add the Akadama clay.
Start by sieving the akadama clay, as most store-bought akadama packs have a lot of excess dirt on the akadama pellets.
Mixing the Akadema at the end is essential, as working it too much or for too long can cause it to break down or melt.
Place the Akadama clay then and mix as you have done for the other two items.
Finish off then by adding the water and stirring thoroughly.
You can then use this soil mix on your Chinese Elm.
Testing things out
I recommend finding a potting soil mix that works for you and testing different types of grit and material, as you may stumble across a Chinese Elm bonsai soil mix that works exceptionally well for your tree.
As mentioned, Chinese Elm trees are incredibly resilient, so you can easily experiment with the species.
Why make your own Chinese Elm bonsai potting soil?
People will create their Chinese Elm potting soil as they have many pebbles and stones. On top of this, purchasing these stones is usually cheaper than buying a pre-bought mix.
What to avoid when selecting potting soil for Chinese Elm bonsai?
The biggest thing to avoid when selecting or making potting soil for your Chinese Elm bonsai is to ensure it does not contain any harmful items to your tree.
This includes items such as cat litter, charcoal, or ashwood, as these can exacerbate the amount of water held onto by your tree.
Another critical thing to avoid when selecting potting soil is if your soil contains chalky stones such as limestones.
These can increase your soil’s PH level, making it more alkaline.
Watering and soil go together hand in hand, so it’s crucial that when watering your soil, you try to use as neutral a water type as possible.
I recommended using rainwater or filtered water which has fewer chemical elements when compared to mineral or tap water.
Finally, you want to ensure that your bonsai soil hits all three key areas: aeration, retention, and flow.
How is Chinese Elm potting soil different from regular bonsai soil?
Chinese Elm potting soil is no different than any other inorganic potting soil mix. Chinese Elm potting soil can work incredibly well on common bonsai species, such as Juniper, Oak, Cherry, Ficus or Jade bonsai tree.
Succulent bonsai, in particular, will work very well with the soil mixes described in this post.
Good Moisture retention
Good moisture flow
Suitable for all species
Suitable for all seasons
Easternleaf Organic Mix
Dry and tropical species only
Perfect Plants Organic Mix
Spring and Summer only
Easterleaf inorganic mix
Boon inorganic bonsai soil mix
Easternleaf Akadama, pumice and ash
How often should you change Chinese Elm potting soil?
You should change Chinese Elm potting soil once every one to two years. Should the inorganic material break down or your Chinese Elm bonsai start developing root rot or yellowing leaves, this is a surefire sign of changing the Chinese Elm bonsai potting soil.
Is cactus soil good for Chinese Elm bonsai?
You can use cactus soil with Chinese Elm bonsai. Cactus soil typically contains a lot of organic material, so using cactus soil to make up 25% to 50% of your bonsai potting soil mix can prove beneficial.
Chinese elm bonsai, in fact, will be a lot more resilient to using cactus soil than other bonsai varieties due to being super resilient.
Best Chinese Elm bonsai potting soil by season?
Inorganic potting soil is the best for your Chinese Elm bonsai to be used every season.
Should you live in a mild climate, consider using organic soil in the spring and fall. To do this may require you to change your Chinese Elm soil too frequently, so I recommend sticking with an inorganic potting soil mix of akadama, volcanic ash rock, and pumice year round.
Inorganic potting soil mixes can easily survive very harsh cold winters and sweltering, dry summers.
Organic soil mixes may be more beneficial in the spring and fall growing seasons and may dry out in the summer or freeze up in the winter.
Can you use regular potting soil for Chinese Elm bonsai?
While not the ideal potting soil for Chinese Elm bonsai, you can use regular peat potting soil to successfully grow a Chinese Elm bonsai tree. Just ensure you use no more than 30% regular potting soil and mix grit such as sand, perlite, or lava rock into the mix.
What is the best fertilizer for Chinese Elm bonsai?
Liquid fertilizers are the best fertilizers to use for your Chinese Elm bonsai. For best results, using a liquid fertilizer with an even NPK ratio of 10-10-10 will work best for your tree. Lower nitrogen fertilizers can also improve your Chinese Elm bonsai’s ability to absorb nutrients.
While volcanic ash rock does contain the 13 vital essential nutrients your Chinese Elm bonsai needs, the rocks become less efficient at providing these nutrients to your tree as time passes.
As such, fertilizer should be considered.
Use the fertilizer then once per month during the spring and summer.
Place the fertilizer on the potting soil and work until the fertilizer is four to six inches deep in the bonsai pot.
Avoid placing the fertilizer on the Chinese Elm’s leaves at all costs. This can stunt growth and lead to early death.
Mixing water-soluble fertilizer will work best for Chinese Elm bonsai for an even excellent distribution of nutrients as the weeks go by.
Does Chinese Elm bonsai prefer acidic or alkaline potting soil?
Chinese Elm bonsai trees prefer neutral soil at a PH range of 6 to 7. A potting soil mix that retains more water will help ensure the soil composition stays neutral.
To ensure that the soil remains neutral, change the soil every one to two years, depending on the size of your bonsai, and avoid using tap water to water your Chinese Elm bonsai.
Too much tap water can add salts to your potting soil, making it slightly more alkaline.
Can you plant Chinese Elm bonsai in the ground?
Chinese Elm bonsai should not be planted in the ground. Most Chinese Elm bonsai trees are grown indoors due to the tree’s tropical nature. If you plant your Chinese Elm bonsai on the outdoor ground, there is a good chance it will not survive when the temperature drops.
The only exception to this is if you have a hot, hot sunny summer that is ideal for your Chinese Elm.
In this scenario keeping your bonsai outdoors for a few weeks in these hot conditions will benefit your bonsai.
To figure out how to do this, check out the image below:
Should you use coffee grounds in your Chinese Elm potting soil?
Chinese Elm trees prefer neutral soil and are not particularly fond of coffee grounds which can acidify the soil. While coffee grounds can be used sparingly on Chinese Elm, using coffee grounds too frequently can impact your Chinese Elm’s ability to absorb nutrients from the earth.
To read up more on this – check out my post here.
Survey on the best potting soil for Chinese Elm bonsai
Finally, I surveyed 10 plant paladin readers, asking them what the best potting solid for Chinese Elm bonsai was.
You can find the results below:
This post was written by Fehed Nicass, who has been passionate about bonsai for over three years.