Hokkaido Elm

Bonsai Nut

Nuttier than your average Nut
Reaction score
Charlotte area, North Carolina
I thought people might enjoy photos of this truly impressive Hokkaido Elm pre-bonsai I saw today at one of my local nurseries. It is the largest I have ever seen. Its price was also impressive :) I wish I had been able to take better photos, but it was chained to the table and I couldn't get enough distance to get the entire tree in the right perspective. (My daughter is the grumpy model)




You are right, that is one impressive Hokkiado elm. I too have never seen one that large. I also like the hi-tech security system this nursery uses. I assume from the chains that they have a problem with after hour visitors.

I tried to grow Hokkiado elms here in Northeast Florida for 10 years with no success. I bought a small one in 1995 and started some cuttings the next year. They would grow great for a year or two then unexpectedly die. Each year I would start a few more cuttings to make up for the yearly losses. This cycle continued until a few years ago when I finally gave up on them. The trees would normally die in the spring after our short winter. I believe my losses were mainly caused by root rot due to our wet conditions.

I also grow Seiju elm and have had a little more success with them. At least the entire tree does not normally die. The major problem with the Seiju has been die back of the fine twigs and branches. Again, this occurs is the spring after our short winter season. The trees will usually go into dormancy after the first freeze (normally early December) and drop their leaves. In the spring, (normally mid February) they will come out of dormancy. However, the fine twigs and branches just shrivel up and die. This has sure put a crimp in the development of my trees. Anyone have any ideas on this?

I've wondered the same thing due to the exact same problem. Some years I get quite a bit die back. Doesn't seem to matter how cold it gets or doesn't get. Last year, my area (zone 9) hardly had any frost at all and had a lot of die back on both varieties. I moved plants under cover and covered them on frosty nights. Still had lots of die back. Why?
Since Hokkaido/Seiju's are so prone to die back, how did this one get so big?
I also get a fair amount of die-back of small inner branches on Hokkaidos and Seijus in the Spring. I think it is due to wetness before the new growth has had a chance to harden. Perhaps a good anti-fungal treatment in the spring? I do not seem to have the same problem with new growth that pops mid-summer - even stuff that is very small and close to the trunk and shaded.

I was not refering to the die back of the new spring growth, I was refering to the die back of the previous seasons growth. My experience has been that the fine twigs and branches formed in the previous growing season have a tendancy to shrive up starting at the tips and die as the tree is coming out of winter dormancy. Sometimes the die back will even extend into two year old grow. On rare occasions, an entire branch will die and twice I have had what seemed to be well established trees just never come out of winter dormancy.

This problem seemed to plague the Hokkiado elm more severly than the Seiju elm here in my area. That's why I finally gave up on them. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be any partiuclar pattern to this die back. Some years, none of my Seiju's are affected. Some years, only a few are affected. Some years, they are all affected. As M.B. pointed out, it does not seem to be a temperature (too cold) problem that would kill the twigs. I have taken similar steps as M.B. during colder weather in my attempts to figure this one out. Results have been hit and miss.

At this point, as I stated earlier, I am leaning towards some form root rot or other problem associated with cold and wet conditions around the roots when the tree is dormant. However, it is hard to determine exactly due to the timing. The normal soil conditions (bad smell and dead slimy roots) associated with severe root rot do not seem to be present when I pull the trees from their pots.

It has been very frustrating to say the least.

Thanks for the feedback.

I have similar problems with Hokkaido Elm. Finally, in order to revitalize the tree, I planted it in the ground this year. But it is very slow to recover, there is little growth this year. I am not sure whether or not it will make it through this season. When transplanting in the ground, I noticed that there were very few healthy roots left, although the the tree was growing in instant-draining, mostly inorganic medium. It is definitely prone to root rot.

The seiju is also in the ground, and doing much better. However, the "regular" chinese elms (cork-bark) growing right next to the seiju are much more vigorous and have three times more growth.

So, both the Hokkaido and Seiju seem to require special growing conditions, compared to most of the rest of the crowd.

I wonder why, and what exactly are those conditions? Does anybody know any literature that addresses these problems?
Last edited:

I never had any luck growing the Seiju or the Hokkiado elms in the ground here in Northeast Florida. Never could figure out why. Once planted in the ground, they basically stopped growing. I got much better results planting them in larger growing containers during the developmental stages.

Unfortunately, I have never come across any literature that addresses growing these types of elms successfully in small containers. That would be very useful information.

I am rather heappy with my hokkaido elms. They do have more problems than other trees, like die back of branchlets, loss of whole branches. But by and large they do well. This seems to be a weak variety which probably could not survive in nature.


  • NSC_5790v.jpg
    64.6 KB · Views: 300
  • NSC_5848v.jpg
    51.1 KB · Views: 265
  • NSC_5594ofv.jpg
    53.5 KB · Views: 270
The name "Hokkaido" suggests that this is a plant from a rather cool climate, so it may be that So. California and Florida are not the best places to grow them, unless they are grown with extreme care. The Seiju is a sport of Hokkaido, so it may require similar conditions.

Hokkaido is the northermost island in Japan, hosted the winter olympics long time ago.
Well that sounds reasonable, but Walter is in a much cooler zone and still has die back. I think he might be right and they are just weaker.
I will treat them like I do my Japanese white pine and ezo spruce, which also don't seem to appreciate the heat. I move them to only early morning sun once the weather starts to heat up (usually May or June). Placed on the ground and block the wind with some bigger plants. The wind can be like a blast furnace sometimes around here during our summers. Move them back to more sun once it cools down. Maybe not baby them so much in the winter and wait and see what happens.
Hey, I was wondering when you repot your Hokkaidos. When fully dormant and no leaves breaking yet, or after leaves have started to break. I have two I need to move to training pots this coming spring.
And I'd like to say "Thank you gentleman" for discussing a subject I for one have been wondering about for awhile.
Mary B.

From your reply, I would assume that you have experienced this type of die back problem with your trees. Do you feel that Hokkiado elm are genetically disposed to this type of die back or that it is an environmental issue causing it?


I have pondered the same thing myself. It is my understanding that the Hokkiado elm was indigenous to Japan's northern island of Hokkiado. That's why I do not feel it is an issue of "too cold" during our short winters.

The photos posted by B-nut proves that someone in southern California knows how to grow them, at least in nursery containers.

So, based on the feedback, growers in California, Florida, and Germany are experincing similar dieback problems with these variety of elms.

What does this tell us? Is this an indication that these types of elms are pre-disposed to the die back, or that there may be a common environmental (weather, temperature, ect.) issue that promotes the die back, or that there may be a common cultural (how the trees are being grown) issue.


I did not intend to hijack your thread. The photo you posted just peeked my interest and this dieback issue has baffled me for years.

Regards to all,
It is my understanding that the Hokkiado elm was indigenous to Japan's northern island of Hokkiado. That's why I do not feel it is an issue of "too cold" during our short winters.


as far as I am concerned it is indigenous to nowhere. That's the cause of the problems. It is a garden variety. Very often such varieties are weak and have all sorts of problems, usually are short lived. This is the main problem. It is genetically not really fit for life. But if you treat it very nicely it still can live. BTW I keep them in a cold greenhose in winte where it does freeze slightly for many weeks.
There is a good reason why this elm is not seen too often as finished bonsai.
as far as I am concerned it is indigenous to nowhere. That's the cause of the problems. It is a garden variety. Very often such varieties are weak and have all sorts of problems, usually are short lived. This is the main problem. It is genetically not really fit for life. But if you treat it very nicely it still can live. BTW I keep them in a cold greenhose in winte where it does freeze slightly for many weeks.
There is a good reason why this elm is not seen too often as finished bonsai.


Thanks for your feedback.

If this is the case (genetic problems), is there anything that can be done to minimize the problem. I think that I treat my Seiju elms very well. But the problem continues.

I have attached several photos of one of my Seiju elms that I hope will illustrate my situation. This tree was started from a cutting in 1996.

The first photo was taken in late December 2006 and shows the extent of the twigs and fine branches at that time.

The second photo shows the tree after the die back was removed. As you can see, the die back was heavy.

The third shows the tree in July of 2007. It has recovered and is growing very strongly.

The forth photo shows the tree in February of 2008. It was at this time that the annual die back first started to appear.

The fifth photo show the tree in March of 2008 after the die back was removed. Again, some very heavy die back of the twigs and small branches. Unfortunately, the tree has struggled a bit this year.



    67.9 KB · Views: 169
    56.9 KB · Views: 138
    83.1 KB · Views: 148
    77.5 KB · Views: 133
    68.5 KB · Views: 153
I wonder if these would do better grafted onto regular cork bark elm. Has anyone done this or know someone who has.
I have had a nice Seiju elm for a coupl,e of years. Although I was disapionted in not getting as far as I would have liked with development last year I have never sufferd dieback. I give it as much sun as I can find. Our summer temps can hit 45 celcious I give it no winter protection and we get as cold as -4 celcious.
Ray Nesci has developed a Hokkaido "strong" variety. I must see if I can get my hands on one.


  • bonsai elm (2)small.jpg
    bonsai elm (2)small.jpg
    41.2 KB · Views: 244
Last edited:

That is a promising looking Seiju you have. From the picture, it looks like you are starting into the phase of development where I first started noticing the die back problem.

All my Seiju elms have been grown from cuttings. I did not really notice the die back much on trees that I would allow to grow freely in nursery containers to thicken up the trunks. The problem only became noticeable once they were transfered to shallower containers and I started developing the fine branches and twigs.

Do you normally have wet or dry winters?

I keep a close eye on it and not one twig has died back but I will keep you updated.
I was suprised at this thread as I have heard of people having this trouble before but it was always anwserd with give them more sun and bewilderment how anyone can have trouble with such a hardy tree? That is why I give mine all the sun it can get like a pine. This thread has made me think there may be an issue with this species. I hope not, such a great looking tree for bonsai.
Our winters generally have large downfalls of rain but the trees rarely stay wet for longer than 2 weeks. We have been in drought here for many years though so the down poors have been mucfh more of a drizzle.
Last edited:

I'm sorry to say more sun is not the answer in my case. I live in Northeast Florida where sunshine is extremely abundant. My trees are exposed to direct sunshine for up to 8 hours each day and seem to love every minute of it.

Temperature wise, my conditions are not that different from yours. This time of year (summer) we average around 32 to 37 celcius with very high humidity. Our winters are normally short, but we can experience temperatures as low as -4 celcius on occasion. During the winter time, we tend to get a lot of temperature fluctuations due to the cold fronts that move back and forth across our area. It can be 24 celcius and raining one day and by the following morning it can be 0 celcius when a fast moving cold front blows through.

Over the years, I have labored under the premise that maybe it was something that I was doing wrong or that it was some environmental factor that I could "fix" or compensate for. Unfortunately, the feedback seems to indicate the problem may be genetic.

This from Brent Walston's species guide
"Some people report that they have trouble growing this tree, and it almost always can be traced to over-protection. This tree thrives in full sun and heat, and even partial shade can bring its demise. Bonsai plants can tolerate afternoon shade in hottest driest areas. Needs good drainage and regular even water but not wet conditions which will cause root and crown rot."

William N. Valavanis has a few good ones going maybe he would be good to get some info off.
Thats a nice tree Paul, have you ever thought of removing that bottom branch?

Top Bottom