The Chinese elm tree (or Ulmus parvifolia) is native to China, Korea, and Japan and was first introduced in the United States in the mid-1800s.
Chinese elms are often a popular substitute for zones that have experienced a heavy proliferation of Dutch elm disease, as they are equally pleasing visually and prone to the disease.
Their most impressive feature is their bark. It’s naturally flaky, revealing an inner bark that can range from grey to green to orange and brown, which adds winter interest to any landscape, even in the absence of any foliage.
Chine elms are fast growing and will eventually reach thirty to forty feet tall with the same sized canopy, if appropriately grown, with a vase-like shape and weeping branches. Some have been known to grow up to seventy feet tall under perfect conditions.
Because of their grand, upright, and thick canopy, Chinese elm trees are often ideal as shade trees – especially in drier climates where drought tolerance is critical.
They’re often referred to as semi-deciduous trees. When grown in southwest desert areas, they often lose their leaves towards the end of the calendar year but retain much of their foliage in milder climates, where minimal raking in the fall is needed. The foliage turns yellowish-brown in the fall with tiny flowers in late summer followed by small decorative fruit that birds and squirrels often delight in.
Where should Chinese elms be planted?
They like full sun locations but can also tolerate partial shade, though full sun produces the best growth rate. They can adapt to many different soil types if they’re well drained.
Is the tree drought tolerant?
Yes. Once mature, Chinese elms are considered drought tolerant trees with minimal watering during normal weather patterns. However, it prefers deep watering with a garden house to keep root systems hydrated in hot and dry conditions. Newly planted trees require watering several times a week until they are established after two to three months. Spreading several inches of mulch around the tree’s trunk helps retain moisture.
Is fertilization necessary?
Periodic fertilization provides nutrients for optimal growth. Plan on fertilizing every couple of months during the spring and summer to keep the tree healthy into the dormant season.
Do Chinese elms need to be pruned?
Minimal pruning is necessary due to the tree’s artful and symmetrical canopy unless it infringes upon low-hanging power lines or overhangs roofs. Trimming beneath the trees canopy may be necessary for proper clearance and to help develop a solid overall structure. Suckers should be removed as soon as they sprout to prevent robbing the tree of valuable energy.
Are they resistant to any diseases and insects?
Chinese elms are resistant to several pests and diseases: Dutch elm disease, phloem necrosis (when leaves yellow and drop off during the summer and is incurable), and even Japanese beetles.
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