There are several wonderful styles of the Zelkova that make great bonsai. For
example, the Elm Zelkova (Zelkova carpinifolia) and Japanese Zelkova (Zelkova
serrata) are two top choices. These plants originate from western Asia where
they prefer cooler climates.
The leaves of the Zelkova look similar to the American or English Elm but much
smaller. Although not everyone agrees, many bonsai enthusiasts believe the
Zelkova is by far the best deciduous tree for bonsai. The Zelkova is related to
the Elm but with a major advantage – they do not experience the same problem
During the colder winter months, you would notice the Zelkova has small, green
leaves with a slight, sweet fragrance. However, in the fall, the leaves change
color to a bronze or golden yellow color and the fragrance seems to disappear.
The trunk of the Zelkova is straight with smooth bark. One of the distinguishing
characteristics of the Zelkova is the color of the trunk, which ranges from
green to gray when at a mature age.
|Zelkova serrata in winter.|
The Zelkova prefers deep soil that is fertile and well drained. The key to
growing this tree as a bonsai is to repot in early spring with the younger
Zelkova being repotted annually and older trees every two to three years or when
the roots are matted or the container too small. If you plan to wire the Zelkova,
you need to take great care since the branches are fragile and thin. When you do
wire, do this in the summertime.
For pruning, shoots should be cut back, leaving just one to two leaves. This
particular type of bonsai tree can be styled anyway you like with the exception
of literati. However, we recommend you consider the broom style, which works
beautifully with the thick branches. The Zelkova is an overall hardy tree but
you want to make sure it has protection from frost if grown outdoors. Then in
the summer, the Zelkova needs a lot of water and sun. Finally, make sure you do
not over water the Zelkova in the winter nor allow it to dry out completely.