Chinese Elm Losing Leaves? (Causes/Prevention!)  

Chinese Elm losing leaves

Chinese Elms are among one of the most versatile houseplant species out there. These trees are easy to care for and can be kept indoors and outdoors. Like all plants, however, these trees are susceptible to damage. I noticed that one of my Chinese Elms started losing leaves recently, and so this got me asking why was my Chinese Elm losing leaves. 

Chinese Elms trees are semi-deciduous and will lose some or all of their leaves for a few weeks in the fall/winter. These leaves will grow back after a few weeks. When moved, Chinese Elms will also lose their leaves due to sudden changes in temperatures or climates. 

It is typical for Chinese Elms that have been bought online or in-store to lose their leaves as they adapt to the climate and conditions of your home. 

So what are the other causes for Chinese Elm losing leaves? And what can you do to prevent your Chinese Elm from losing leaves? 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

Chinese Elm losing leaves

If you were to name one species of tree that is both beginner-friendly and super easy to care for, Chinese Elms would undoubtedly place high up on the list. 

With over 35 species out there, the Chinese Elm is often referred to as the crown jewel of all Elm species. 

It’s one of the reasons why these tree species are used so commonly in bonsai trees – both kept in indoor and outdoor conditions. 

Recently I noticed that one of my Chinese Elm bonsai had started dropping leaves. 

I got in touch with my local botanical gardens, got in touch with a few bonsai experts, and even did a quick survey of 20 Plant Paladin readers who also own Chinese Elm to ask them why my Chinese Elm was losing leaves. 

To ensure that you had the most in-depth article on Chinese Elm losing leaves on the web. 

To summarise: 

Chinese Elm losing leaves – quick facts

  • The most common reason for Chinese Elm trees losing leaves is a change in seasonality.  
  • Chinese Elm trees are semi-deciduous, meaning that for a few short weeks throughout the year, some or more of their leaves will fall due to temperature changes. 
  • Chinese Elm trees will also temporally lose their leaves when moved from location to location. 
  • It is expected for Chinese Elm trees to lose their leaves after being delivered or bought home from a store as your tree gets to grips with its new environment. 
  • There are, however, some scenarios where the leaves are dropping from a Chinese Elm tree cause concern. 
  • These include overwatering, damaged roots, pest or fungal infections, lack of nitrogen in fertilizer, and lack of sunlight – all of which need to be diagnosed and treated individually. 
  • If your Chinese Elm is losing leaves for one of these reasons – catch the problem early, and you will avoid any significant damage to your tree. 

Chinese Elm losing leaves - infographics

Chinese Elm losing leaves – Causes and solutions

To help summarise some of the primary reasons why Chinese Elm loses leaves, I’ve made a table below which should highlight the cause and solutions to the problem:




Wait a few weeks and the tree should regrow it leaves

Change of location

Wait a few weeks and the tree should regrow it leaves

Lack of sunlight

Use a grow light or move outdoors to get 6 hours of sunlight per day.


Plant in the ground to stop overwatering, only water when the topsoil is dry to touch.

Lack of nitrogen

Invest in fertilizer with an equal N-P-K ratio

Low humidity

Move outdoors or invest in humidifier/diffuser

Damaged roots

Trim or remove roots

Insect infestation

Natural or chemical positive


Check topsoil daily for water requirements

Excessive training

Refrain from wiring, pruning or cutting your tree for one year

Poor potting soil 

Repot your tree in a fresh inorganic potting soil mix

Let’s explore these in more detail. 


Often when the leaves of our Chinese Elms tres start to fall, we go into panic mode. 

We think our tree has some infection, we are not watering it enough, or there is generally something wrong with our care. 

Looking over Google Trends data, we can see a spike in search traffic around September to October; no doubt, people are searching that the leave of their tree is falling off.

However, the truth is simpler: Chinese Elm trees are semi-deciduous. 

What does semi-deciduous mean

Semi-deciduous is just a fancy way of saying that some of the tree’s leaves may fall off for a few weeks of the year.

Semi-deciduous trees like Chinese Elm trees will drop a few of their leaves for a few weeks during the year to make way for new leaf growth. 

Now, this can vary; some years, you might find that your Chinese Elm loses all of its leaves from fall to spring. 

Your Chinese Elm might only lose about 10% of its leaves for two weeks in other years. 

Some years, your Chinese Elm might not lose any leaves at all. 

However, knowing this going in will make you feel rest assured that if you are keeping on top of the care of your Chinese Elm, and it is still losing leaves when the season or temperature changes, it is likely due to the tree being semi-deciduous. 

How to prevent it?

To prevent the leave of your Chinese Elm from falling off due to seasonality, consider maintaining the temperature of your tree year-round. 

Investing in things like greenhouses to ensure you have a steady temperature year-round will produce the best results. 

Keep in mind that some leaves will fall naturally at some points through the life of your Chinese Elm. 

Instead, this is nothing to worry about and a natural part of your tree’s lifecycle. 

Changes in location and temperature

I do not doubt that some of you have just recently purchased a Chinese Elm tree, and now the leaves are falling. 

The second most common reason for a Chinese Elm Losing leaves is simply a location change

Many reputable bonsai retailers such as Eastern Leaf or Herons Bonsai will have disclaimers when purchasing their trees that the tree’s leaves will partially or entirely fall off in the first few weeks. 

Chinese Elm trees are not fixed furniture or faux trees but living, breathing trees and need a bit of time in most scenarios to acclimate to their new conditions. 

For example, if you have purchased your Chinese Elm tree from the USA and are moving it into your home in the UK, your tree will take a few weeks to adapt to the changes in temperature, sunlight, and new soil conditions. 

These stresses will naturally cause your tree’s leaves to fall as your tree gets to grips with its new conditions before sprouting new growth. 

Typically this leaf fall will take between 5 and 6 weeks at the longest before the new leaves start to come through. 

How to prevent it?

Like leaves falling off because of seasonality, the best thing you can do to prevent leaves from falling off from location change is to keep your Chinese Elm in the same place. 

Place your Chinese Elm indoors in a south or west-facing window where it gets plenty of sunlight, and do not move the tree from this place for the duration of your Chinese Elm’s life. 

Lack of sunlight

Another primary reason that causes the leaves to fall in Chinese Elm trees and many indoor and outdoor trees is a lack of sunlight. 

Sunlight is essential for trees as it is where trees and other fauna get their food through photosynthesis

A lack of sunlight will mean you Chinese Elms will start to make their process more efficient to reduce the amount of energy used. 

If your Chinese Elm then is not getting enough light, your tree will start to shed leaves that take up vital energy to maintain. 

How to prevent it?

To prevent the leaves from falling from your Chinese Elm caused by a lack of sunlight, move your Chinese Elm to a spot with plenty of bright sunlight. 

These trees require between 6 and 8 hours of first sunlight per day. 

Keeping your tree indoors in a space with no windows will lead to disaster for your tree. 

Instead, then place your tree near a south or west-facing window for best results. 

Alternately, if you are hesitant about moving your tree, consider investing in LED artificial lights that contain the entire light spectrum. 

These can provide your tree’s sunlight requirements and don’t break the bank to operate. 

Should I move my Chinese Elm outdoors? 

If lack of light is the main reason causing your leaves to drop, the best option is to move your Chinese Elm tree outdoors. 

Chinese Elms are versatile and can thrive both in indoor and outdoor conditions. 

I would strongly advise moving your tree outdoors for a few weeks every few months to ensure they stay healthy and gain enough sunlight. 


While many of us think that underwatering our trees is the cardinal sin we can commit against our trees, the truth is that overwatering Chinese Elms is a far more common problem a lot of us have. 

Overwatering trees are identified through yellowing leaves that will become dry, shriveled, and eventually fall off if left unchecked. 

Overwatering can lead to very wet potting soil, leading to root rot and mold infections. 

How to prevent it?

The excellent news about overwatering is that it can be reversed in most scenarios. 

I’ve written two posts dedicated to the topic below: 

But to summarise, to prevent overwatering: 

  • Trim back any waterlogged roots 
  • Plant your tree in the ground outdoors so the soil can absorb the excess water. 
  • Dry out the dirt and roots of your Chinese Elm with a hairdryer 
  • Practice good watering etiquette.  
  • Only water when the topsoil of your Chinese Elms tree is dry to touch. 
  • Consider using rainwater where possible. 

Water your Chinese Elm two to three times per week in the spring, summer, and fall (depending on the conditions). 

 Water once every one to two weeks in the winter.

Lack of nitrogen in fertilizer  

Fertilizers are commonly used in the growth of Chinese Elm to provide extra nutrients in the soil that the tree might be missing organically. 

The three composers of almost every fertilizer, regardless of if they are liquid or organic, are Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium. 

Many fertilizers have these elements in different ranges, so if a Chinese Elm does not have enough nitrogen in its fertilizer, it can cause some of the leaves to fall off. 

How to prevent it?

The best way to prevent the Chinese Elm from losing leaves from a lack of nitrogen in fertilizer is to add nitrogen back into the fertilizer. 

The best way to do this is by using a Fertilizer with a balanced N-P-K ratio with equal parts of all the elements. 

Alternately, other organic materials in fertilizer, such as coffee grounds, can also be undertaken. 

Low humidity

I’ll be honest; low humidity is one of those elements you don’t hear too much about when damaging trees. 

However, if you have tried everything else on this list and still find the leaves of your are falling off, this can be the issue. 

Humidity in the air ensures that the leaves of your tree and your tree, in general, remain moist and hydrated – ensuring it has ample water needed for photosynthesis. 

The theory is then that if you keep your Chinese Elm indoors, low humidity will mean your tree will be dryer, meaning there is a greater chance of your tree having to work harder for photosynthesis to take place, causing the leaves of your tree to fall off. 

While in the grand scheme of things, lack of humidity alone will not cause your leaves to fall off, it can be something you look into to prevent it from happening in the future. 

How to prevent it?

To prevent low humidity in your tree, consider misting your tree once per day with one spray of a spritzer can. 

Better humidity will ensure that the leaves and topsoil of your tree have plenty of water to aid n the photosynthesis process. 

Investing in diffusers or humidifiers can also work well to get rid of the dry air prevalent in many of our homes.

Another alternative would be to invest in potting soil that retains water better and allows for less aeration to dry out your tree. 

Finally, if you have multiple trees you keep indoors, consider grouping them, drastically improving humidity indoors. 

Damaged roots 

So we touched upon this earlier on, but damaged roots can (unfortunately) be commonplace when it comes to growing Chinese Elm trees. 

Damaged roots are mainly caused by overwatering, where they often get waterlogged, reducing their efficiency. 

This leads to a vicious cycle which usually goes like this: 

Your Chinese Elm becomes overwaterterd> Your tree roots become waterlogged > your roots either die back or become less effecient> this inefficiency causes the tree to not photosynthesis sunlight > your leaves drop off as a result. 

How to prevent it?

The best way to prevent the leaves of your Chinese Elm from falling off due to rotten roots is to cut off the water-logged roots. 

These roots can spread mold and infestations to the rest of your tree if not removed, so use a sharp pair of rooting shears and remove these roots. 

You may also need to trim back some of the tree’s feeder roots. 

However, if more than 40% of the roots have been damaged, it may be too late to save your tree. 

Insect infestation

Another common reason for Chinese Elm leaves to fall off is insect infestationAphidsspider mitesScale, Whiteflies, and Caterpillars all love to eat on the dense leafy canopies of Chinese Elm. 

These bugs like to specifically eat the sap contained inside the leaves of the trees, and if left unchecked, this can lead to damaged leaves. 

To compensate, your Chinese Elm will often drop the leaves to fight off the insects. 

How to prevent it?

There are a few options to prevent insects from causing the leave of your Chinese Elm to drop off. 

First, consider using a pesticide. 

Pesticides can either be chemical pesticides found in most garden centers. 

Alternatively, consider creating your own by spraying your tree with a solution of one tablespoon of liquid soap to 100ml of water. 

If you want to avoid chemicals on your Chinese Elm, consider using natural predators like parasitic wasps or ladybugs to eat these insects. 

Anthracnose and mold Infections

Mold can cause the leaves of your Chinese Elm to drop. 

The process will most commonly start with white powder or spots on your tree’s leaves, which can eventually lead to the browning and finally falling off of leaves in your tree. 

Anthracnose is one group of mold infections that are particularly common amongst Chinese Elm trees. 

This group will typically cause canker on the twigs and stems of the tree and lesions on leaves which can also be sunken. 

How to prevent it?

Fungal infections can be more challenging than dealing with insect infestations. 

They are treatable, however. 

First, remove any leaves that have been infected to prevent any infections from spreading. 

Once done, use a fungicide and spray on your tree to stop any mold trapped in all its hard-to-reach areas. 

Lack of repotting 

Finally, the last reason Chinese Elm trees can lose leaves is a lack of repotting

Chinese Elms will typically grow 12 to 26 inches per year and need to be repotted every 3 to 5 years to prevent the roots from getting damaged in smaller pots. 

If left unchecked, these damaged roots can prevent the absorption of nutrients from the soil, and a lack of water passing through the tree can lead to damaged shrunken leaves that can eventually fall off. 

How to prevent it?

To prevent this, regularly repot your Chinese Elms tree during the spring. 

Repot every 3 to 5 years for best results. 

Ensure the roots are trimmed when repotting and use quality potting soil with good aeration, moisture retention, and moisture flow. 

Check out my post on repotting bonsai trees here to read more on this

Do Chinese Elms lose leaves because of climate?

Chinese Elm trees will lose their leaves due to climate changes. This will typically take place in the fall from September to October. The leaves will normally grow back after a few weeks due to the Chinese Elm being semi-deciduous.  

How to stop Chinese Elm from losing leaves? 

So as you can see from this post, to prevent your Chinese Elm from losing leaves, you first need to determine the cause of the leaves falling. 

For most of you, it will be a case of just waiting a few weeks for the tree to settle into its new environment or for your Chinese Elm to go through the normal cycle of shedding leaves that semi-deciduous trees go through. 

If your tree is dropping leaves due to overwatering, insect or mold infestation,  lack of sunlight, or fertilizer, these elements need to be countered directly. 

Often it will be a case of trial and error, going through these individually and overcoming each of these before determining the root cause of why your Chinese Elm is losing leaves. 

Will Chinese Elms lose leaves if kept outdoors? 

As Chinese Elms trees are semi-deciduous, they will lose leaves regardless of if they are kept outdoors or indoors. Leaves will typically fall due to changes and drops in temperature, most commonly in the fall between September and October. 

The primary way to prevent leaves from falling from Chinese Elm would be to maintain the temperature year-round. 

For example, keeping in a greenhouse with a steady temperature year-round will hopefully prevent the leaves from falling due to seasonal or location changes. 

It will not, however, not prevent your tree from losing leaves from other causes such as insect infestation or overwatering. 

When does a Chinese Elm lose leaves?

Chinese Elms will lose leaves the most between September and November during the fall. The temperature changes will cause the semi-deciduous nature of the Chinese Elm to signal the leaves to drop to make way for new leaf growth. 

Other Elm species that lose leaves?

All Elm species are deciduous or semi-deciduous. All Elms will lose either all or some of their leaves during the fall, during sudden temperature changes, or when moved from location to location.  

Do Chinese Elm leaves turn yellow before falling off? 

Chinese Elm leaves will turn yellow before falling off if you have overwatered your Chinese Elm. To prevent this, only water your tree when the topsoil is dry to touch. 

Should you cut the leaves of a Chinese Elm? 

So if the leaves of your Chinese Elm tree are already falling off, should you remove the remainder of the leaves of your tree. 

Absalotuley not. 

I would say so for a few reasons. 

Firstly, Chinese Elm will drop their leaves in the fall for a few weeks. 

They are using all their energy to sprouting new growth at this stage. 

Removing the remaining leaves will cause additional stress on your tree. 

Instead, if you would like to trim the remainder of your Chinese Elm leaves and branches either for defoliation or stylistic purposes, wait until the early spring to undertake any training in your tree. 

Do younger or older Chinese Elm trees drop more leaves? 

Chinese Elm trees that are older will drop more leaves than younger Chinese Elm trees. This is because older trees are not as efficient at maintaining their growth the older they get resulting in more leaves falling. 

Do larger or smaller Chinese Elm trees lose more leaves? 

Chinese Elm trees that are larger will drop more leaves than Chinese Elm trees that are smaller. This is simply because larger Chinese Elm trees will have a greater quantity of leaves and so will drop more leaves. 

Survey on if Chinese Elm trees lose leaves? 

Finally, I wanted to undertake a quick survey of 20 plant paladin readers, asking them what the cause of the Chinese Elm dropping leaves was:

Chinese Elm losing leaves - survey results

How to care for a Chinese Elm tree? 

A lot of you reading this will be wondering exactly how to care for a Chinese Elm tree, so hopefully, the table below will help: 

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.

Recent Posts