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How to Grow an Elm Tree

A Gardener's Guide on How to Grow an Elm Tree Easily

The chance to grow a tree from a seed or sapling stage and watch it evolve into a huge, immense living structure, is a chance every gardener or landscaper or even a homeowner should undertake. Scroll below to learn how to grow a magnificent elm in your backyard.
Gardenerdy Staff
Last Updated: Mar 13, 2018
The shadow cast by a noble and regal elm tree is vast and enveloping. Elm trees are one of the oldest and tallest tree species around, since their origin in the Miocene period, 40 million years ago. They belong to the Ulmaceae family of trees and at least 30 members or types of elms belong to this family. Their key characteristic is their incredible height, large tree canopy or coverage and their ease of growth. Growing such a magnificent flora specimen in your backyard is not as difficult as you think, provided you have enough space for such a giant tree. The elm tree is a very hardy and durable species, with an average life span of 30-50 years. Read on to learn how to grow your own elm tree, that will stand the test of time and last for generations.

Steps to Grow an Elm Tree

Starting Steps
The Elm tree as a species, is highly susceptible to a fungal disease, known as DED or Dutch elm disease. In fact most of America's elm population is wiped out due to this devastating disease. So pick a cultivar like Valley Forge or lacebark elm, which are resistant to the impact of DED and hence will grow fully and live a long life.

You can start from seeds or from young saplings. The elm tree is a very hardy species and either starting point, seed or saplings, is sure to grow into a tall, healthy tree. Saplings can be obtained from a nursery and must be transported with root ball intact. You can obtain seeds from an aged elm, which should be at least 15 years old. The seeds or samaras have slight wings and are scattered by the wind. Usually seeds fall within 300 feet of the parent elm. Once you have collected the seeds, air-dry them for 1-2 days, so that they germinate. Store the seeds in a moist and damp sealed container and place the container in a low-light or dark area, which is low in temperature. Seeds collected in the spring season will germinate quickly within the same season.

Pre-planting Points of Care
As a species, the elm tree is tall. The American elm alone reaches a height of 35 m. And at the sapling stage, the tree may look short but spindly but as they grow, they develop a magnificent bush and leaf coverage, so the tree will soon cast a mighty shadow. To prevent your tree from growing into fences and utility lines or into houses, plant elms at a distance of 5 meters from nearby houses. Do not plant them under or near any utility lines.

Elms are tough trees and soil-wise, they need well-drained, rich, loamy or clay soils. They are also highly tolerant of soil acidity levels, within the range of pH 5.5 to 8.0. Elm trees need a lot of sunlight to grow, so plant the seeds or saplings in a bright spot, which receives a lot of natural light. If you are planting saplings, check their leaves and roots for signs of disease. They should be at least 3-4 feet tall.

Planting Steps
To plant the elm seed or sapling, you need to:
  • Dig a shallow, tapering hole. The hole's width should be 3-4 inches wider than that of its container's width. Place the root ball or the germinated seed's roots in the hole and cover the hole loosely with native soil.
  • Water the roots of the plant and make sure the soil settles. If the soil dries up quickly, water the roots again. Do not keep watering the soil, the roots may rot.
  • You should add mulch around the tree's roots without touching the trunk of the sapling. The young tree is vulnerable to pests like rats, squirrels and rabbits, so use a rodent guard to protect it.
  • For the elm tree, the soil must be fertilized below the grass root level, for the tree to absorb the nutrients. So use fertilizer spikes or stakes to fertilize the elm tree but do not use any fertilizer. There are specifically designed fertilizers, tailored to suit the growth needs of elm trees.
After Planting Care
Once your elm is planted, to keep it growing tall, the following steps should be carried out:
  • Once or twice a year, apply fertilizer to your elm. But use elm-specific fertilizer only.
  • When watering an elm, water the soil at the outermost extent of the tree's crown. Do not sprinkle water on the trunk or bark.
  • If you are mowing your lawn, do not mow the grass near the tree. You may damage the tree's long and deep roots with the mower.
  • Do not use a sprinkler system to water an elm. You need to soak the soil with a hose.
  • You need to prune and trim your elm but pruning should be done at the right time, as it leaves the tree vulnerable to diseases. Never prune the elm tree during the fall and between April to late July. Instead prune your elm in early spring, so new growth takes place. Prune at the branch node, where the branches of a tree grow out from.
  • Examine the elm's leaves from time to time. Brown, wilted leaves means insufficient water. White spots or black spots or sudden and unwanted defoliation means fungal infections. Aphids and scale insects attack the leaves and bark of the elm tree.
  • If the tree dies or an elm tree in the neighborhood is dead, you must dispose of the dead tree immediately. A dead tree is a breeding ground for the DED fungus. Remove major limbs, cut the tree down and either burn it or bury it immediately.
Elm trees are great natural recyclers. They can grow in moderate soil conditions but through their presence, the soil around them is enhanced in terms of richness. So growing an elm tree can increase the nutrient content of the soil and hence encourage other plants to grow better and live longer. Plus the impressive landscaping beauty provided by elm trees makes it a classic feature for most statuesque homes.