At one time, Elm trees lined the streets of small-town America. Their story is a cautionary tale for planting a ‘mono-culture’ – a dense planting of a single species (as opposed to a mixed planting of different species). Once Dutch Elm Disease struck, it swept through the populations quickly. The fungal disease is spread by insects, who hopped up and down main street USA, spreading the disease. First found in Ohio in the 1930s, it spread from state to state. By the mid-60s millions of trees were lost.
There are now a few named cultivars that are apparently resistant to the disease, which we carry from time to time. (Princeton being the most well known.) There are also American Elm trees standing today that have not succumbed to the disease.
We have grown a crop of beautiful Elms grown from the seed of trees that appear to be resistant to the disease. Even when young, it is easy to see why this tree was so popular. There is nothing like their beautiful vase-like shape for a shade tree. Our trees are about 4′ tall and 8 years old.
They prefer full sun to light shade and moist, fertile loamy soil. They can tolerate drier areas as well as clay, silt, or sand. Temporary flooding is OK during the winter, but good drainage is required during the growing season. They are fast growers.
You can plant American elms in your lawn, an abandoned meadows or as a street tree or shade tree. Elms are striking in the landscape, so plant where you can enjoy them! Keep a large mulch ring around the tree to reduce grass competition and damage from lawn implements. The mulch will also keep the soil moist and the roots cool. If you keep the tree as free from stress as possible, it will be more likely to ward off disease of any kind.
Elms support several butterfly and moth species and also provides nectar for honeybees. Carolina Chickadee, Rose-Breasted Grosbeak, Purple Finch, Eastern Goldfinch, House Sparrow, and Yellow-Rumped Warbler feed on the seeds of American Elm. The Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker drills holes through the bark to suck the sap. Baltimore Oriole, Warbling Vireo, and Red-Shouldered Hawk use elms as habitat for their nests. (from https://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/trees/plants/am_elm.html)
Young trees like ours stand the best chance of resisting the disease. Your tree may live quite a while before you notice symptoms of Dutch Elm Disease, if ever. It’s worth giving this great tree a try in your landscape.