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Elm trees – Dutch Elm disease resistant varieties

Jeff Gillman, Chad Giblin, Gary Johnson, Eli Sagor, Mike Reichenbach and Gary Wyatt

Elm trees

Throughout the state, native American elms (Ulmus americana), red elms (U. rubra) and rock elms (U. thomasii) are still falling prey to Dutch Elm Disease (DED). DED is one of the most widely-known tree diseases, affecting elms world-wide. Fortunately, researchers have been working to breed and select DED-resistant trees to replace those stately giants. Now, more than ever, these trees are finding their way into home landscapes due to increased demand and nursery availability.

Since 1999, the University of Minnesota has been evaluating, selecting, and screening elms for use in Minnesota. To date, they have studied thousands of elms from dozens of different varieties. Unless stated differently, all trees listed below should be hardy in USDA Hardiness Zone 4.

Hybrid Asian elms

These elms are the result of controlled breeding programs throughout North America. All have demonstrated tolerance to Dutch elm disease and are great selections for tough sites where other trees won't grow. In general, hybrid elms are smaller at maturity than their American cousins. Many also have leaves and mature forms that are distinctly different than American elm.

American elms

Over the last 100 years there have been dozens of American selections, unfortunately, most did not survive the ravages of DED and have been lost and forgotten. These selections have shown excellent tolerance to DED and continue to be great selections for providing the "high-canopy shade" that American elms are known for.

Where to purchase elms

Elms are gaining popularity and many nurseries grow these varieties. Check with your local garden center and ask if they can special order your favorite elm if not currently in-stock. Also, many American elms are available online.

Table 1. Dutch Elm Disease Resistant Varieties

  Growth Rate Zone Insect Resistance2 Form Maintenance Requirements Height1 Crown Spread
Accolade™ fast 4 excellent vase moderate 40 35
Danada Charm™ v. fast 4 good vase moderate 45 30
Commendation™ v. fast 4 good oval/ vase moderate 45 30
Cathedral v. fast 4 good vase high 45 30
Discovery slow 3 good upright moderate 35 30
Frontier slow 5 fair upright low 35 20
Homestead v. fast 4 fair upright moderate 45 35
Jefferson moderate 4 good upright moderate 45 30
New Harmony fast 4 good vase moderate 45 30
New Horizon v. fast 4 fair upright high 45 30
Patriot fast 4/5 excellent vase low 35 25
Pioneer moderate 4/5 fair globe low 35 25
Prairie Expedition fast 3 good vase moderate 45 30
Princeton fast 4 fair vase high 45 30
Prospector fast 4/5 good vase high 40 25
St. Croix v. fast 4 good wide vase very high 40 30
Triumph™ v. fast 4 good vase moderate 45 30
Valley Forge v. fast 4 fair vase high 45 30
Vanguard™ fast 4 fair vase high 40 35

1Height and spread dimensions are growth estimates in a typical 30 year timeframe. This incorporates knowledge of mature specimens, where available. Some dimensions are estimated and will vary greatly and may be influenced by site conditions and maintenance, especially pruning.

2Insect resistance recommendations are based on observations at the University of Minnesota, the Morton Arboretum, and previously published work.

Elm maintenance

Many of these elms require considerably more pruning and training than other landscape trees and the first ten years often determine how they will perform for the remainder of their lives. In the case of elms, a small investment in maintenance during the "formative years" will have a huge payoff when they are approaching maturity. Like most trees, these elms are best maintained with a strong central leader; this ensures a straight stem and keeps the tree growing up rather than out! As the lower side branches grow and increase in diameter, they should be removed until the desired clearance for the site is reached. Knowing when and how much to prune and maintain trees requires experience so if you're not sure how to work on young elms, contact an experienced International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) Certified Arborist to get you started right. The investment made now will pay off when your tree is growing beautifully, is structurally strong and is providing shade on your property.

Diversifying our landscapes with many different varieties of trees helps to create a sustainable ecosystem. All of the elm varieties mentioned above offer excellent potential for use in rural windbreaks. These DED-resistant elms add to our array of tree species that can be planted in the upper Midwest, contributing to greener and cooler communities throughout Minnesota!

To learn more about DED-resistant elm trees review these web sites:

Source: Jeff Gillman, formerly of UM Horticulture, St. Paul; Chad Giblin, UM Forest Resources, St. Paul; Gary Johnson/Eli Sagor, UM Forestry Extension, St. Paul; Mike Reichenbach, UM Extension, Cloquet; Gary Wyatt, UM Extension, Mankato; Kris Bachtell, Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL

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