Mini Chinese Elm Bonsai Grown from Root Cuttings

Whenever I repot my large Chinese elms, I save the roots and grow them into shohin and mame bonsai. Typically these roots have very interesting, twisting and meandering movements. By using these characteristics, one can grow mini literati, exposed roots and cascade bonsai with unusual twists and turns that are difficult to duplicate by wiring.

The followings are some examples of my mame size Chinese elms grown from root cuttings.


An exposed twin-root Chinese elm literati. Height: 5″.


An exposed-root literati. The three roots twist and bend naturally. Height: 10″


A cascade Chinese elm. Note the cut-root has a sharp bend at the base which made it suitable for a cascade design. Width: 12″.


A semi-cascade Chinese elm. I left the main trunk bared to expose its natural twisting movements, only a few leaves were left at the tip. This is a Lingnan penjing “Suren” literati style which emphasizes heavily on negative space and minimum branches and leaves. A minimalist style. Width: 8″.


I used this literati in our last October bonsai show, viewed reverse in this photo. Please see the previous post of the display. Height: 4 1/2″.


Another Chinese elm literati I considered using for the last October show, but chose the previous one instead. Height: 5″.

When growing bonsai from root cuttings, one has to pay attention to possible reverse taper because a cut-root is usually thicker at the top than at the bottom where the fine roots are. When new buds emerge at the cut-end, one has to select one bud to become a new leader and remove the rest; otherwise the excess buds would thicken the cut-end quickly and cause a reverse taper.

Many species can be grown from root cuttings such as ficus, hackberry, flowering quince etc. I like growing shohin and mame elms because their leaves are easily reduced to match the overall size of the tree.


A leaning informal Chinese elm styled by using clip-and-grow method. Height: 5 1/2″.

Next time when you re-pot, before throwing away the roots, examine whether some of them have interesting movements that can be grown into literati or cascade bonsai. You can also wire long cut-roots with exaggerate bends since they are very flexible. However, I prefer to retain their natural shapes and style them into literati.


9 thoughts on “Mini Chinese Elm Bonsai Grown from Root Cuttings

  1. This is so amazing! they are beutiful! I really want to do this too, but im not sure how to do it. How do i plant the root? When and how do i expose the root and let it grow above the soil? is there anywhere i can read about this?

    • Thank you Alexander. I just planted the roots into a 4″ pot with the exposed parts above the soil level as they were. They hardened off very quickly and the buried fine roots were sufficient to keep them alive. I am not aware of any English language article on this method but it is used very often in Japan for growing those twisted and gnarly Chojubai flowering quince and etc.. I learned this from Kyosuke Gun’s set of 10 shohin bonsai books, they are, however, in Japanese. Al Keppler of California Bonsai Art had posted a page of Gun’s book, where you can see drawings on how to grow twisted mini bonsai from roots. Please let me know if you need further help.
      One thing to watch out is the reverse taper if one uses a very long and fat root.

      • wow thank you for your reply! That was very helpfull. Ill try this as soon as possible and ill look out for reverse taper! thank you very much!

  2. Pingback: Mini Chinese Elm Bonsai Grown from Root Cuttings | Bonsai Penjing & More – Wolf's Birding and Bonsai Blog

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