There are many elm trees you can grow in your yard depending on where you live, what size elm tree you want, and the overall look you prefer.
Another important consideration is how quickly your elm tree will grow. While some species can grow slower, most elm tree varieties grow 3 to 6 feet per year.
Here we will cover what to expect during each stage of an elm tree’s life from seed to mature tree. We will also help you determine which species is best for your yard and give you some tips on how to keep your tree healthy and happy for its lifetime and yours!
Full Timeline Of An Elm From Seed To Tree
So you’re thinking about growing an elm tree of your own to add beauty and shade to your yard? But how long will it take? What can you expect?
Since most elm species grow at about the same rate per year, the time to reach maturity mostly depends on how tall the tree gets.
We’ve done the research for you and put together a full description of what to expect and how to grow your very own elm tree from seed to a fully mature tree!
The American elm can reach a height of 80 to 130 feet tall and will reach maturity (full height) in 30 to 40 years. The Chinese elm can reach a height of 40 to 50 feet tall and will reach maturity in 20 to 25 years.
If you have considered planting an elm tree, oak trees might have crossed your mind as well. To learn more about the differences between elm and oak trees, check out this article!
Day 0: Selecting Your Seed Or Sapling Species
Before you grow an elm tree, you’ll have to decide what species and/or variety of elm tree you want to grow. We cover how big different species get and where they grow best later in this article.
Keep in mind, Dutch Elm Disease (DED) can harm many of the native elm species in North America and Europe. If you decide to grow one of these species, there are several cultivars which have been selected and bred to resist DED. Clemson University has a list of some of the resistant American elm cultivars that are currently available.
You can easily grow a healthy, beautiful elm tree from a seed, or you can start with a small sapling.
If you’re looking for seeds, mature elm trees will drop several hundred seeds within a 300-foot radius of the tree. If you don’t have an elm tree nearby to collect seeds from, you can usually find a sapling at your local garden center.
Day 1 To Day 90: How To Plant Your New Elm Tree Seedling
If you decide to go the seed route, be prepared to sow a lot of seeds to get a few to sprout. Elm seeds do not remain viable for long after falling from the adult tree. You should try to collect them within a few weeks of them falling from the adult tree in spring for the best results.
Here are the steps you’ll need to take to get your elm tree seeds to grow into a tree:
- Dry the seeds: After you collect your elm tree seeds, allow them to air dry indoors on a paper towel for 1 to 3 days.
- Prepare your potting mix: You want to have well-drained soil for good germination. You can do this by adding equal parts of regular potting soil together with sand and mixing well.
- Prepare your planting tray: Fill a shallow tray with 2 to 3 inches of your potting mix and thoroughly water it. Make sure the tray has drainage holes in the bottom to keep the potting mix well drained.
- Plant your seeds: Simply lay the elm tree seeds you’ve collected about 1 inch apart from each other across the top of the potting mix. Barely cover the seeds with extra potting mix by sprinkling a thin layer over them. Gently water the top layer of soil so it is moist.
- Place the container in a dark area: You don’t want to expose your tray to sunlight until your seedlings grow. Keep your planting tray in a dark cool area of your house and check every couple of days to see if the seeds have sprouted. Keep the soil moist without over watering or the seeds will rot.
In 2 weeks to 2 months, you should start to see your elm trees sprouting. After they begin to sprout, you can move them to a window that gets around 6 hours of sunlight per day. Once the saplings reach about 2 inches tall, you’ll want to thin them out so that the seedlings are 2 to 3 inches apart.
Once the seedlings have several leaves on them, they are ready to be planted in individual pots. Use the same potting mix as you did for germinating the seeds (equal parts of potting soil and sand) and transfer your seedlings into individual pots. It’s best to get a 1-gallon pot with drainage holes and a saucer.
The HC Companies 8″ Classic Planter and their matching 8″ Classic Saucer are perfect for your seedling to grow into a sapling. They also come in several colors so you can match them to your personal style.
You can now move your seedling outside!
Day 90 To 1 Year: Watching Your Seedling Become A Sapling
During the first year of the seedling’s life, you will want to keep your seedling from getting too much direct sun. While adult trees thrive in full sunlight, seedlings do better in partial sunlight. Make sure the seedling doesn’t get over 2 to 2.5 hours of direct sunlight per day, preferably earlier in the day.
Also, make sure that you keep your seedling watered without over-watering. Having the seedling in a pot with drainage holes will help prevent over-watering.
The first year of life for an elm tree is a vulnerable time when it is most susceptible to dying. Watch for any signs of declining health, such as yellowing leaves or stunting, and make sure you follow the recommendations for sunlight and water.
Depending on where you live, you will want to bring your seedling inside if there is a sudden drop in temperatures below freezing. The seedling will harden and become tolerant to the cold after experiencing several weeks of temperatures between 32°F and 50°F.
If your seedling hasn’t had enough exposure to temperatures that will harden and protect it from freezing cold temperatures, you will want to move it inside if temperatures suddenly drop below freezing.
Year 1 to Year 3: Transplanting Your Elm Sapling And Watching It Grow
If you started out with a sapling instead of a seed, this is where your elm tree journey will begin.
Getting to the sapling stage requires a fair amount of effort and care. You may want to start out with a sapling instead of a seed, depending on the time and effort you want to spend growing your elm tree early on.
Timing is critical when transplanting your sapling. You’ll want to transplant your elm tree sapling in early spring after the threat of frost has passed. You will also want to transplant before temperatures get too warm so that your new sapling has time to get used to its new environment before summer weather becomes too harsh.
The act of transplanting a sapling is stressful for the plant no matter how good of a job you do. By transplanting at the right time, you prevent the added stress of environmental factors such as temperature from further stressing the sapling.
Finding the right location in your yard to plant your sapling is also critical. After the first year, elm saplings grow best in full sunlight and well-drained soil. Elm trees are pretty hardy, are drought tolerant, and shouldn’t require annual fertilizer in most situations.
Make sure the spot you plan to plant your elm tree sapling gets plenty of sunlight and provides enough space for the adult tree to grow into. Keep in mind that planting your elm tree too close to sidewalks or driveways may lead to concrete damage as the tree becomes larger. Later in this article, we go over how big different adult elm tree species grow.
It is normal to see your elm tree sapling become a little stressed after being transplanted because of the environmental changes it experiences by being moved into the ground and getting direct sunlight.
Don’t worry, as long as you pick the right spot and make sure it has the correct amount of sunlight and water, it will thrive before you know it!
To minimize the amount of stress your elm tree sapling undergoes during transplanting, follow these steps:
- Dig the hole at least twice as wide as the pot the sapling is currently in. This will ensure that when you place your sapling, and fill the hole back in with the loosened dirt you dug up, the roots have room to grow into some new soil that isn’t already compacted.
- Place your sapling in the hole. You may need to add some dirt back into the hole if you dug it too deep. That’s okay, you want to have some loosened dirt below the root ball as well. Make sure when you fill in the hole, the dirt does not go more than an inch above where the soil level was on the trunk while in the pot. This will help ensure roots which have been developing near the surface of the soil in the pot don’t get buried so deep that they get stressed.
- Fill the hole with dirt and press it down gently. It may be helpful to have a second person hold the sapling straight while you fill the hole with dirt to ensure it doesn’t move.
- Water the elm tree thoroughly immediately after transplanting it.
- Mulch the area right around your new tree. This will help the soil retain moisture and reduce competition from weeds. Use 3 inches of pine bark mulch for the best results.
Make sure you continue to water your newly transplanted elm tree weekly if you don’t get rain. Stop weekly watering once temperatures drop during fall.
You’re now one step closer to having yourself a fantastic, large shade tree that you can enjoy for decades to come!
Eager to see your tree mature? Check out our article on the 12 fastest growing deciduous trees for a complete list.
Year 3 To 10: Maintain The Shape Of Your Elm Tree
By the third year of growth, and possibly before depending on the individual tree and how healthy it is, pruning will become extremely important to ensure you end up with a gorgeous elm tree when it is fully grown.
Pruning, when done correctly, will eliminate limbs while they are still a manageable size to remove. Pruning also helps ensure you end up with a straight, symmetrical tree.
Not sure how to go about pruning? Luckily, we have created a guide on just when and how to prune large trees with plenty of helpful tips!
If you are not comfortable or knowledgeable about pruning, it is best to reach out to an ISA-certified arborist for help. While the correct pruning will insure a beautiful tree, incorrect pruning can cause a dead tree. Pruning can also be dangerous, so do not hesitate to call in a professional.
You should also fertilize your new elm tree in the spring one year after you transplant it. After that, your elm tree shouldn’t need fertilizer unless your soil quality is extremely poor. Follow the fertilizer directions exactly because too much fertilizer can harm your new elm tree.
Make sure you continue to replace the mulch around your elm tree annually to help retain soil moisture, reduce competition from weeds, and provide extra nutrients and organic matter to the soil as it decomposes.
Year 10 And Beyond: Sit Back And Enjoy The Shade
Around age 10, the need for annual pruning should be over as the tree is now maturing and should have a good form at this point. It may still be a good idea to have a professional come out every few years to assess your elm tree’s health and remove any branches that may be damaged during severe weather.
Your elm tree will start producing flowers and seeds around year 15. This will attract many birds which you can enjoy watching while you sit in the shade of your elm tree.
Check out the information below regarding pests that might attack your elm tree so you know what to look out for and how to manage those pests if they hurt your elm tree.
Did you know that elms are one of the faster growing shade trees? To see the other 10 easy to plant shade trees, take a look at our article where we reveal them all!
What Type Of Elm Tree Is Right For Your Yard?
With over 30 elm tree species available to choose from, there are plenty of unique leaves, bark textures, and overall shapes and sizes to consider. However, the two most important factors to consider are (1) the space you have available to grow the tree and (2) if the species grows in your USDA plant hardiness zone.
Where And How Tall Do Elm Trees Grow?
Most elm tree species grow to be 30 to 70 feet tall and 30 to 60 feet wide. However, the American elm can grow up to 130 feet tall and 120 feet wide!
Below is a chart you can reference for the mature tree size, hardiness zone, and DED resistance status when choosing the elm tree species you want to grow. Remember, some species also have multiple cultivars available if you want an elm tree that is resistant to DED or certain insect pests.
|Maximum Height (feet)
|Maximum Width (feet)
|American elm (Ulmus americana)
|2a – 9b
|Certain cultivars are resistant to DED
|Chinese lacebark elm (Ulmus parvifolia)
|Slippery elm (Ulmus rubra)
|Scotch elm(Ulmus glabra)
|Siberian elm(Ulmus pumila)
How Long Do Elm Trees Live?
Elm trees have an average lifespan of 100 to 150 years. Shorter-lived species such as the Chinese elm may only live for 50 years. On the other hand, American elms can live much longer with some trees being over 300 years old!
How To Keep Your Elm Tree Healthy And Happy
One of the biggest concerns homeowners have about planting elm trees is the well-known Dutch Elm Disease (DED). DED first hit North America in the early 1900s and wiped out millions of elm trees. It is estimated that DED has affected between 20 and 40 million elm trees in North America since its arrival.
DED is spread to elm trees by tiny bark beetles that carry DED and spread it when they burrow into the tree to lay their eggs. The most common sign of DED infection is leaf wilting usually on a single branch of the tree. DED will slowly move throughout the tree, sometimes taking years, causing the tree to ultimately perish if it has no resistance to DED.
The best prevention for DED in your elm tree is to plant a resistant species.
Resistant elm species can still be infected, but they can often overcome DED. To add a layer of protection to your elm tree, try to keep your elm tree healthy by properly pruning, fertilizing, and watering it early on. The beetles that spread DED to elm trees are often more attracted to stressed elm trees.
Several other pathogens can cause damage to your elm tree. Most of them are transmitted by insects just like DED. To keep insects from feeding on and damaging your elm tree, it is recommended to use insecticides.
The easiest method for this is to use an insecticide you can apply using soil drenches.
Soil drenching is a method for applying insecticide where you pour the insecticide around the base of the tree and water it in. Soil drenches can usually be applied once a year and provide protection all year from various insect pests.
Soil drenching is preferred to foliar sprays, especially once trees reach maturity when it is extremely difficult to get the entire tree sufficiently covered to prevent insect damage.
With a soil drench, the insecticide is absorbed through the roots into all the parts of the tree, so when insects ingest any part of the tree, they are ingesting the insecticide.
We recommend Bonide Annual Tree and Shrub Insect Control, which will provide year-long insect control for your elm tree.
Make sure you read and follow all the label directions when applying any insecticide to prevent damage to your plants and/or to yourself.
Harvey, R. B. 1980. Length of exposure to low temperatures as a factor in the hardening process in tree seedlings. Journal of Forestry 28:50-53.
Merkle, S.A., Andrade, G.M., Nairn, C.J., Powell, W.A. and Maynard, C.A., 2007. Restoration of threatened species: a noble cause for transgenic trees. Tree Genetics & Genomes, 3(2), pp.111-118.
Strobel, G.A. and Lanier, G.N., 1981. Dutch elm disease. Scientific American, 245(2), pp.56-67.
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