Is Chinese Elm A Hardwood? (How Is It Useful?)

is Chinese elm a hardwood

Recently I removed a dead Chinese Elm tree from my backyard. Before I threw it away at my local garden waste disposal center, I was curious to see if I could repurpose the wood, so this got me asking, is Chinese Elm a hardwood? 

Chinese Elm trees are hardwood trees. Like all Elm species, Chinese Elm contains fewer air bubbles than softwood trees and are classified as hardwoods. Chinese Elm trees are also angiosperms, which is also a classification of a hardwood tree. 

So what are the benefits of Chinese Elm trees hardwood? And are there any problems associated with hardwood trees? Keep reading to find out more!

Just a quick heads up, over the past three years of running Plantpaladin, hundreds of people have asked for product recommendations. As such, You can find my favorite indoor bonsai tree here (link takes you to Bonsaiboy), my favorite outdoor bonsai tree (link takes you to Bonsaiboy), or have a look at all the products I recommend here

Is Chinese Elm a hardwood? 

Chinese Elm trees are one of the most robust and common household trees available. 

These trees are typically straightforward to care for, make for great bonsai trees, and can be cultivated successfully indoors and outdoors. 

While these trees are widely available, too many are seen as pests due to their intrusive roots and the Dutch Elm disease they can commonly carry. 

Luckily, Chinese Elm can often recycle these trees. 

I recently had to remove my Chinese Elm tree from the bottom of my garden. 

Before I sent it on its way to green plant recycling, I wanted to see if I could repurpose the wood into furniture, floorboards, and anything that could help with my overall home renovation. 

As such, I got in touch with a few wood experts and visited my local botanical gardens to determine if Chinese Elm is a hardwood. 

To summarise: 

  • Chinese Elm trees are hardwood trees. 
  • Chinese Elm trees belong to the broader Elm (Ulmus) family. All Elm trees are of the hardwood variety. 
  • The main characteristic that makes Chinese Elm a hardwood as opposed to a softwood is having fewer air bubbles than softer varieties such as Pine or Juniper trees. 
  • Another significant characteristic is that the tree produces seeds through nuts and fruits as opposed to cones like evergreen species. 

Let’s explore why Chinese Elm trees are hardwood trees in more detail: 

is Chinese elm a hardwood - infographics

Why are Chinese Elm trees hardwood trees?

So like a lot of you reading this, I found the term hardwood a little confusing to get my head around in the first instance. 

When I think of Hardwood, I think of wood that can be repurposed and used to create things like furniture, floorboards, and sculptures and is just generally very usable. 

Especially when compared to the term softwood, which in my opinion would be wood used for soft furnishings such as chipboards or the back of a wardrobe your might purchase from IKEA. 

This, however, is not valid!

What are hardwood trees? 

So if the above terms and definitions are incorrect, what is a hardwood tree? 

A hardwood tree is a tree that loses its leaves during the winter and is deciduous or semi-deciduous. 

Some tree species that are Hardwood then include Oak, Ash, Beech, Elms, and Chinese Elms. 

Hardwood trees are also categorized by reproducing via seeds contained in fruits and nuts (known as angiosperms), which grow via flowering. 

To a lesser extent, hardwood trees also contain fewer air pockets in the wood of the tree. 

What are softwood trees? 

If Chinese Elm trees are Hardwood, they cannot be softwood, so it is good to know what exactly qualifies as being a softwood tree. 

Softwood trees are typically evergreens, such as Pines, Junipers, and Conifers. 

These trees do not lose leaves in winter. 

These trees will reproduce through the pollen contained in the cones they grow. This is commonly referred to as a tree being a gymnosperm. 

As such, the wind then allows these trees to reproduce, blowing the seeds from softwood tree to softwood tree, helping fertilize them. 

Softwood trees also contain more air pockets in the actual tree wood. 

To summerise the differences, I’ve put together a table below:



Air holes



Tree Type

Deciduous/ semi-deciduous


Reproductive type



Misconceptions between hardwood and softwood trees

The most significant misconception people have when comparing hardwood trees like Chinese Elm to softwood trees like Pine is that the term hardwood refers to the wood’s strength. 

This infers that only the wood from deciduous species such as Oak and Elm can be used for hard furniture like floorboards and wardrobes. 

However, this is not the case, with plenty of softwood tree wood being used for all building projects. 

Many draws, for example, are made directly out of Pine softwood. 

How to tell that Chinese Elm trees are Hardwood? 

Chinese Elm trees are hardwood trees and can be identified through the semi-deciduous nature of their leaves. Other characteristics include reproducing via angiosperms and a smaller number of air pockets in the tree’s wood. 

Benefits of Chinese Elm trees being Hardwood 

So now we know that Chinese Elm trees are Hardwood; what are the benefits of hardwood trees. 

The main benefits then of hardwood trees like Chinese Elm include 

  • Strength 
  • Long life 
  • Better colors and finishes 
  • Fire resistance

Let’s explore these in more detail: 


While the strength of hardwood trees is often exaggerated when compared with softwood trees, the truth is that the wood these trees produce is generally more robust. 

As these trees have fewer air bubbles, they have different cell structures than softwood trees. 

It’s one of the reasons Hardwood is commonly used in lofts as pillars in older houses, as the strength of these trees was widely known. 

Long Life

One of the problems that can sometimes occur when using wood from a tree is after a few years; it can break. 

Think of any flat-pack piece of furniture you have bought, and I guarantee the chipboard will not be as good a condition as it was when you first got it. 

Not the case with hardwood trees such as Chinese Elm, which will remain a solid material to work with for decades. 

On top of this, semi-deciduous hardwood trees like Chinese Elm and Ficus have been known to live for hundreds of years, meaning you want to have to worry about the quality of Hardwood deteriorating for several lifetimes

Colors and fishes 

It’s not just Chinese Elm that produces Hardwood but millions of other deciduous tree species such as Oak, Maple, and Olive

As such, it can be super easy to find Hardwood from these trees that come in different colors and finishes. 

This versatility means that the range of products you can make with Hardwood is massive, ranging from floorboards and wardrobes to park benches and house pillars. 


Hardwood trees and wood burn at a higher temperature than their softwood counterparts. 

As such, these trees are more fire-resistant. 

The burning point of Chinese Elm is around 20 million BTUs per cord of seasoned wood. 

If you live in an environment prone to things like Forrest fires and have to choose between Hardwood and softwood, consider investing in a hardwood tree. 

Drawbacks of Chinese Elm being Hardwood 

There are also some drawbacks of Chinese Elm trees being Hardwood, which include: 

  • Slow growth rate 
  • Harder to work with 
  • Costs

Slow growth rate 

Chinese Elm trees are Hardwood, and their cell structure is more robust than softwood, so the trees will often take longer to grow than some of their softwood counterparts. 

It’s normal then for Chinese Elm to grow only about 12 to 24 inches per year. 

Other hardwood varieties such as Ginseng Ficus will grow at an even slower rate, averaging 5 inches per year. 

As such, if you want to grow your Chinese Elm tree, keep in mind the growth rate of these trees. 

Harder to work with 

Chinese Elm trees will have fewer air bubbles than their softwood counterparts. 

While this makes them stronger, it does make these trees more challenging to cut down. 

For example, using a handsaw on coniferous softwood tree trunks is reasonably straightforward. 

Doing so on hardwood varieties like Chinese Elm will be much more challenging, and it’s not uncommon for specialist tools such as chainsaws need to be used. 


Chinese Elm trees and other Hardwood will cost a lot more than softwood. 

While this tends not to impact the tree at the point of purchase or when growing from a seed, if you purchase the wood directly from a garden outlet or lumber store, you will quickly notice how much more expensive Oakwood or Elmwood is compared to Pinewood per square meter. 

For example, this classic hardwood Oak flooring costs £34.99 per square meter compared to this softwood Pine which retails at £15.99 per square meter.

What can you do with Chinese Elm hardwood? 

You can use Chinese Elm hardwood to create hardwood flooring, furniture, beams, and other wood material. You can use Hardwood from Chinese Elm trees the same way you use Hardwood from different tree varieties.

Which location produces the best Hardwood from Chinese Elm trees? 

Chinese Elm trees grown in their natural environment and conditions (USDA zones 5b to 10a) will produce the best Hardwood. While Chinese Elms can be grown indoors, they need significant room and sunlight to mature into big hardwood trees. 

failing to grow a Chinese elm in the right conditions can lead to yellowing leaves and the death of your tree before you have developed enough Hardwood.

Are all Elm trees hardwood? 

All Elm tree varieties are Hardwood. All Elm Trees are deciduous, reproduce through seeds and flowers, and have fewer air pockets than softwood evergreen trees such as Pine trees. 

What other tree species are Hardwood? 

Other tree species that are Hardwood include Oak, Maple, Ash, Walnut, Beech, and Sycamore trees. All varieties of Elm trees, including Chinese Elm, are also Hardwood. 

Can you use Chinese Elm bonsai as Hardwood? 

While Chinese Elm bonsai trees are Hardwood, using the wood from these trees will not be practical. Bonsai trees are generally small, so to have enough wood to have functioning hardwood, you will require hundreds of bonsai trees. 

On top of this, using bonsai trees solely for their wood will raise a few eyebrows. 

Bonsai as an art form can take years to master, so raising bonsai purely for harvesting their wood is almost like ripping up the Mona Lisa because you need to make a shopping list!

Does Chinese Elm make good firewood? 

Chinese Elm trees do not make good firewood. Instead, consider using wood from Oak, Pine, or Hickory trees. Chinese Elm trees have a higher burning point than softwood varieties or other trees commonly used in firewood. 

The high sap content in Elms will also contribute to them not being the best wood for fires.

Now if you are in the process of growing this tree I would defiantly check out the table below:

Chinese Elm Bonsai tree Requirements



Once per day in the spring-summer or if kept indoors. Once per week if kept outdoors during the winter. Only water if dry to touch.


6 hours of direct sunlight in the summer. LED grow light can also be used.


Between 60 degrees F and 100 degrees F


Once per month during the spring and summer. No fertilization is required in the fall or winter. 


Once every 2 to 3 years in the first 10 years. You can then report once every 5 years


Can be placed outdoors in direct sunlight or indoors in a bright spot.

Wire type

Both copper and aluminum wire can be used.

Time to grow from scratch into maturity

8 to 12 years to reach full maturity

Potting soil

An inorganic Akdama, volcanic ash soil mix works best.

Growth type

Fast-growing, averaging 12 to 36 inches of growth per year.


Average store-bought trees are size is one or two-handed bonsai trees - 3 to 10 inches in size, 2 to 8 inches wide


50 to 150 years



My top picks for the gear you will need!

So like I mentioned earlier, over the past three years of running PlantPaladin, hundreds of people have asked me for my recommendations on the best bonsai gear on the market. 

Having spent thousands of dollars on bonsai items these past few years and tested at least 100 bonsai-specific products, I’ve listed my favorite products below – All of which I highly recommend and think you can get great value. 

They can purchase directly by clicking the link to take them to Amazon. 

Bonsai Tool Set: One of the significant challenges I’ve had is finding a toolset that was not only durable but didn’t break the bank. SOLIGT has recently developed a fantastic bonsai tool set that covers all the tools you need to trim, prune, and repot your trees. – You can grab it here

Complete Bonsai Set: Many of you will want to grow your bonsai trees entirely from scratch, but finding the varicose seeds, pots, and other items in one place can be challenging. Leaves and Sole then have created a complete bonsai set that I’ve personally used that ticks all the boxes. You can grab it here

Bonsai wire: The number of times I’ve run out of wire for my bonsai or purchased cheap bonsai wire that doesn’t do the job is embarrassing for me to admit. After a lot of trial and error, I found that using Hotop’s aluminum bonsai wire is one of the best options on the market. This can easily be used for both indoor and outdoor bonsai. You can grab it here.

This post was written by Fehed Nicass who has been passionate about bonsai for over 3 years. He currently resides in the UK and works in sales

Fehed Nicass

Fehed Nicass has been passionate about all things bonsai and botany focused for the past 3 years. What started out as a hobby has developed as a passion and he is now on a mission to teach and learn.

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