Geniusdudekiran
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Chinese Elm indoor lighting

Hey everyone, My name's Kiran and I'm a high school student who's had a bonsai for about 2-3 months now. My tree is a beautiful kifu size Chinese Elm (Will post pics soon) which was purchased from Takashima bonsai in SoCal online. The tree was in immaculate shape when it arrived, but now, a few months later, it's not doing as well.

Currently the tree is on my desk, with a N/NE facing window a few feet away. As of right now, it's sitting about 2" under a spiral CFL (48W equivalent I believe, maybe higher) as well as some more ambient light from a 27W PCL lamp over my planted aquarium.

Leaves are turning yellow by the day and I'm picking them off so they don't drain the plant hopelessly trying to "fix" them. Is this correct? As far as what to do with yellowing leaves? Most are not drying out, but they're just turning yellow.

Also I know I have some aphids on the tree, I have been spraying it with a tight stream of water from a mister bottle every day or so outside and then manually removing any that I see.

Are there any problems you guys can see with my setup? I'm bent on having the tree inside, I'm willing to make the plant work around ME. Thanks in advance guys!
"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." -- Steve Jobs

kdodds
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Unfortunately, with living things, YOU must work around THEM. As far as Elms go, they need sunlight. They can get that directly in a sunny southern window, in the window, not a few feet away, which is essentially useless. Northern exposure is about the worst you can do besides not having it in a window at all. If you can not provide the window, you'll need reef-type lighting, MH or T5HO. Keep in mind that this tree also requires a period of winter dormancy. This can not be provided for indoors unless you stick it in a refrigerator for a few months, but it will still need to go dormant before it's lightless. Elms living for a good number of years infoors are, quite literally, one in a million outside of a greenhouse. If you can't keep it outside, your best bet is to discard it and work with something that has a chance indoors (nothing has a chance of developing nicely under the conditions described) like a Ficus spp.

Geniusdudekiran
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Everything I read on this topic is so conflicting. So what you're saying is that my tree will most definitely die a quick death in the given conditions? I find that hard to believe, seeing as when I first got it, cluelessly I kept it in a completely shaded area of the same room with no artificial light for 2 weeks before moving it... can someone help clear these conflicting sources up?
"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." -- Steve Jobs

kdodds
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Yes, that is what I'm saying. I didn't say the death would be quick. Elm deaths are usually long and languishing. I did say that it was a virtual inevitability. As hard to believe as you may find it, I'd suggest you do some searching on this, and other, bonsai sites. Count up the "indoor elm" failures. You'll need a pen and paper to tally them. The successes, well, you probably won't need more than the fingers on one hand. Trees (and plants in general) do not respond immediately to anything, usually, unless maybe you water them with Clorox. I've given you most of what you need to have at least a shot and keeing it alive. LOTS of light and a dormancy period are important. Humidity is also important, especially during growing season. While you're searching for indoor elms, you might want to search on Fukien Tea, Serissa, and Sageretia/Sweet Plum. Along with the Chinese Elm, these four species round out the top of the most killed, impossible to keep indoors, list.

Geniusdudekiran
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Ugh, why do so many places say that it can be grown inside?
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kdodds
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Many of them, like the Juniper bonsai sellers in malls, are looking to make money and, truth be told, probably don't keep any of their trees indoors at all.

Geniusdudekiran
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Just pics as promised:

[img]https://i1211.photobucket.com/albums/cc440/geniusdudekiran/DSC_0742.jpg[/img]

[img]https://i1211.photobucket.com/albums/cc440/geniusdudekiran/DSC_0745.jpg[/img]
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SvetSad
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How many hours a day is that light on?
From what i've read chinese elms are outside trees, but i've seen them listed as "indoor" trees, I've also seen junipers listed as "indoor" which is very much incorrect.

a good indoor tree is a Schefflera, as well as Ficus. If you want a tree to live in the conditions you can provide, then i'd recomment either of the trees.
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Kiran,
I'm bent on having the tree inside, I'm willing to make the plant work around ME.
This is, as noted, a contradiction. If you insist upon perusing an indoor life for this tree, YOU must adapt.

The most obvious thing, again already mentioned by Kdodds, is inadequate lighting. If you are serious about keeping this tree inside you are going to have to upgrade your lighting system. In all honesty this is where you should focus your efforts.
Leaves are turning yellow by the day and I'm picking them off so they don't drain the plant hopelessly trying to "fix" them. Is this correct? As far as what to do with yellowing leaves? Most are not drying out, but they're just turning yellow.
This may be an indication that you have been watering it too frequently. Try using the chopstick method to tell if it is in need of watering.


Although certainly no Pollyanna, I'm not quite as pessimistic as Kdodds. On a spectrum of plants that are easy to keep indoors and those that are not, Chinese Elms must surely fall somewhere in the middle. These are not the same species as North American Elms that have a strong dormancy requirement. Here are a few excerpts from Brent Walston's web site.
Subtropicals such as Chinese elms, Ulmus parvifolia, have little if any dormancy requirements. In colder areas they drop their leaves, go dormant and act like deciduous trees. In milder, non freezing environments, they are evergreen and exhibit continuous growth except for occasional 'quiescence'. T
https://www.evergreengardenworks.com/dormancy.htm
Other species such as Chinese Elm, Ulmus parvifolia may or may not lose their leaves during this dormant period. At mild temperatures (above freezing) they will remain evergreen, losing all of their leaves during the following season, but not all at once, so it appears evergreen.
https://www.evergreengardenworks.com/indoors.htm

I would not throw it out just yet, if this is what you insist upon, you have nothing to lose. Buy some better lighting and give it a shot.

Norm

TomM
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The aphid problem mentioned in the first post must also be addressed, outdoors. Spraying with insecticidal soap, natural air circulation, and occasional rain - all outdoors for an elm. Ulmus are not indoor trees.

The simple rule is - if a tree species will grow in the ground year round WHERE YOU LIVE it will not THRIVE indoors WHERE YOU LIVE. The exception might be with a greenhouse - but a greenhouse is so unlike your living space that I discount it in my general rule.

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Deciduous hearty trees have just about no chance indoors.

Deciduous tender trees, may with care and a lot of suplimental light struggle indoors till the weather comes round again.
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kdodds
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Just a small correction to Evergreen's description...

Chinese Elms exist throughout China and their range is temperate to mild temperate to, yes, subtropical. HOWEVER, this does not mean that every individual Elm is subtropical. And, in fact, IME, most of those individuals are NOT subtropical and DO drop their leaves in winter, even indoors, even when temps don't drop too drastically. There's no "lack of trying" here, IOW. ;) The best I've been able to do (in a greenhouse window, mind you) is to keep the tiny leaved species like Hokkaido and such for a couple of years.

Is it worth trying again? For me, no.

On the lighting setup shown... it will not be anywhere near adequate. I'd go with a minimum of a twin tube T5HO fixture 6-12" above the tree. Also, I'd get a humidity tray and hygrometer. Humidity should stay at 40% or above, above being better.

linlaoboo
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not to confuse you some more this article points out it depends on where your elm comes from. If it came from a greenhouse then you can keep it indoors or leave it outdoors in the summer and bring it indoors in the winter.

https://www.nebonsai.com/Chinese_elm.pdf

What's more confusing is you show a SC location and yet you say you're in SoCal therefore this will be a semi-deciduous or semi-evergreen tree in SoCal since it doesn't ever get that cold in the winter there for it to go totally dormant outdoors. My advise for you being that most of us in this post are located in cold regions, you should speak to your local experienced folks to see how best to keep them. There's tons of Chinese all over LA, especially in Rowland Heights and Hacienda Heights. Last time I was in LA saw some vendors selling them infront of their stores in Chinatown. Some of their trees are pretty large.

Btw, the picture shows it's far from dead so you still have a chance of keeping it alive. Good luck.
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Geniusdudekiran
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Ah, thanks everyone for the replies so far. To clarify a few things:

I should have specified, SoCal and SC, haha. I live in South Carolina SC. Not SoCal SC. However the tree was ordered and shipped from Takashima bonsai in SoCal.

To further specify: The tree was bought and shipped in the dead of winter (January) and had full foliage. In fact, I must say, much much more than it currently has. So I guess this means that it's safe to say that this tree has been acclimated to an indoor environment?

The tree has been put outside now. Question:

I plan to bring it in in the evenings/overnight so I can enjoy it during these times on my desk while I work and study. Any potential problems with this?
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kdodds
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I'll just say that I wouldn't move it in and out and leave it at that.

linlaoboo
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sorry I misunderstood your location. SC is alot warmer than us up here still. I gotta worry about my chinese elm that hasn't come out of dormancy yet. Will scratch the bark tomorrow to see if it's still green under neath. I bought mine from a local green house 4 years ago and winter before last I left it outside and it lost the top half of the tree. This past winter I left it outside since spring and let it go dormant then stored it in a dark outdoor closet until March and until now, still nothing =(
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Geniusdudekiran
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No, it was my fault for not disambiguating :)

So I should be okay? What about in the summer heat, when it'll get well above 90?
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kdodds
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Chinese Elms are pretty tolerant of outdoor conditions. Check out the USDA Zone information. Off the top of my head, I'm pretty sure they're fine in zones 4-9, but maybe even a wider range.

Geniusdudekiran
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So, now that it's outside and I've dosed some insecticidal soap (2 times so far, think that's all I need for now. Keeping a close, close eye though) yesterday and today mark the first day that it hasn't dropped ANY leaves at all!
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kdodds
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Congrats! Keep at it and by September it should be full of new branches, and amazingly full leaved. Under the right conditions, elms are weeds.

Geniusdudekiran
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And since I now know that it was conditioned indoors in SoCal, I bring it in in the winter?
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TomM
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To me that is still a sticky question. My basic conception is that dormancy is brought about with cold dark conditions - like Winter. Here in the 'cold dark' North it is easy to provide. But in your much warmer location it is not.

Winter for you, and for the trees previous home (SoCal), is still cooler and darker (fewer hours of daylight) outdoors than in Summer. That's why Summer is considered the growing season and Winter is the 'resting' season. I don't get it that a hardy or semi-hardy tree should ever be brought indoors in the Winter for dormancy, unless the tree is going into a refrigerator or a root cellar. THAT might provide dormancy conditions.

My cellar offers a cool dark corner (crawl space) as a safe environment for elms, maples and hornbeams. But this is nothing like the inside of my house in Winter which is warm and dry - not at all good for dormancy conditions.

kdodds
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^What he said. I'd leave it out.

tomc
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I think the right winter quarfters for an elm in winter in the Carolina's will be in a protected place outdoors.
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