Tree of the Month: Elm

Elm Tree trunk

Once a month, The Grounds Guys like to highlight some of our favourite trees. This September, the Tree of the Month is the stately elm. If you’re interested in adding this magnificent tree to your yard, you can learn more about it here.

Table of Contents:

What Does an Elm Tree Look Like? 

Tall Elm Tree

Elm trees are deciduous trees that are adored for their graceful canopy and stately appearance. While each variety has slightly different characteristics, elms tend to grow 31 to 37 metres tall with wide-spreading canopies that provide excellent shade.

About Elm Trees in Canada

Elm trees are native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. There are approximately 40 species worldwide, but only three are native to Canada. You can find white elm in Saskatchewan, while rock and slippery elms are only found in southwestern Ontario and southeastern Quebec.

Elms are known for growing in various habitats but typically prefer wet, fertile soils. Their hardwood is used to make specialty items such as hockey sticks, piano bodies, and caskets.

There are a wide variety of elm trees. The three most common elm trees found in Canada include:

  • White elm
  • Slippery elm
  • Siberian elm

How To Identify Elm Trees

Elm Tree in a field

Siberian elms are the most common variety of elms in Alberta and other parts of Canada. Here are a few ways to identify it, as well as the other elms found in Canada.

Tree shape: Elms have various forms depending on species, location, and pruning. In general, white and slippery elms have straight, tall trunks and grow in a vase-like shape. Siberian elms generally have a bushier appearance and a shorter trunk.

Leaf identification: Elms have oval or egg-shaped leaves with a pointed tip. With an asymmetrical stem, elm leaves are dark green in colour and are typically 9 centimetres long and between 2.5 to 5 cm wide. The underside of the leaf is rough due to its raised veins.

Bark identification: The bark of elm trees has deep grooves in older trees and is usually silver or grey in colour. Elm tree bark breaks off easily. When the underside of the bark is exposed, you can observe alternating red and cream cross-sections that look like wafers.

Dutch Elm Disease

Elm Tree with Dutch Elm Disease

Elm trees are incredibly susceptible to Dutch elm disease (DED). Caused by elm bark beetles that carry a harmful fungus from tree to tree, the disease wiped out many elms in Europe and North America starting in the 1930s.

American and European species of elms are vulnerable to Dutch elm disease, but Asiatic elms, including lacebark elm and Siberian elm, are highly resistant.

Several elm hybrids are also available or still being developed that can resist the disease. When purchasing an elm tree for your property, make sure you choose a resistant cultivar.

Preventing Dutch Elm Disease

One of the leading causes of the spread of DED is moving elm firewood. Beetles can hide in infected cut wood and easily get carried away by campers and homeowners.

You can help prevent DED by following these best practices:

Prune at the right time. Elm bark beetles are attracted to the smell of freshcut wood, so it is best not to prune your tree between April 1 and September 30, when these beetles are most active. Pruning elms should only happen between mid-October to mid-March the following year.

Only water elms from April to mid-August. This allows them to harden for winter.

Learn More About: The Best Trees for Front Yard

How to Care for Elm Trees

Elm Tree Care

Growing an elm tree in your garden is sure to provide cooling shade and unrivaled beauty for decades to come – as long as you care for it properly. Follow these tips to ensure your elm tree grows to maturity and becomes a striking feature in your yard.

Planting Elm Trees

Shovel in Ground for Planting a Tree

Depending on the variety of elm you choose, you can expect this type of tree to grow in hardiness zones 5 thru 9. Elms prefer full sun or partial shade in well-drained, fertile soil. While bare-root and balled and burlap-wrapped elms do best when planted in spring or late fall, you can plant container-grown elms any time of year. Add a little compost to the fill dirt and mulch the tree immediately after planting to help the soil hold moisture and keep weeds at bay.

Keep in mind that elms have shallow root systems, so growing a garden or other plants near or beneath them isn’t an option. Any plants in close proximity will end up fighting for nutrients from the same soil depth.

How to Water Your Elm

water coming out of garden hose

Water young elm trees weekly when nature fails to bring rain. A good method is to place the end of a garden hose at the base of the tree and let the water trickle out for about an hour. Once the tree is a few years old, it only needs water during prolonged periods of drought.

Elm Tree Fertilization

hand in glove holding fertilizer

No matter what time of year you plant your elm, wait until the following spring to fertilize with a complete and balanced fertilizer. Follow the instructions carefully to avoid over-fertilizing.

Apply fertilizer annually while the elm is still young. Older trees don’t require annual fertilization, but a light scattering every now and then is still beneficial.

Elm Tree Pruning

loppers for tree trimming

Cutting back dead, damaged, and overcrowded branches is important for any tree, but timing is especially important for an elm. Because open wounds can attract the elm bark beetle, you should only prune from mid-October to mid-March the following year when these beetles aren’t active.

Major pruning every three years with minor pruning annually helps keep your tree looking beautiful and growing strong.

Need Help Planting Elm Trees on Your Property?

There is no doubt that a few trees planted strategically around your property can enhance your home’s beauty and appearance. However, keeping your trees healthy and thriving can be a lot of work. We want to help you get the most from your trees and the rest landscaping. Our highly skilled crew members will help you achieve the look and feel you desire with expert lawn care and tree work services. Contact The Grounds Guys to request a free estimate today!