Chinese Elm - normal leaf drop or tree in trouble?

provence(SoCal/19)October 26, 2006

After much deliberation, we planted a Chinese Elm as the focal point of our patio. It came in a 24" box, and since we planted it in March it has put out a lot of new green growth, upwards and outwards. I know that this is considered a semi-deciduous tree, and I'm trying not to get too alarmed as more and more leaves are turning yellow and falling to the ground. However, there are several Chinese Elms in our neighborhood that started off with the same leaf drop pattern, and are now almost completely devoid of leaves!

Is this normal for this tree? I love the quality of movement and dappled shade that it brings to our sitting area, and needless to say would be very sad to lose it. The leaves that have grown since the Spring seem to be hanging on (for now), but the ones that were on the tree when we planted it are yellowing.

Thanks so much for all and any advice and reassurance.


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The term "semi-deciduous" is an odd one.

It certainly doesn't mean that the tree will always drop just half its leaves. Or, funnier, that 50% of trees will drop them all and 50% will drop none.

Mostly, it means that the tree will drop some of its leaves, the extent of which is determined by environmental factors. Semi-deciduous trees drop more leaves as the temperatures drop and more leaves as the water conditions drop.

Behind it all, too, is the genetic factor. With the exception of the vegetatively-propagated named forms (of which 'True Green' is one of the better leaf-holders), individual trees (seed-propagated) show a wide range of droppiness.

And ya hafta consider the fact that many trees will hold onto their leaves almost all winter and then suddenly drop them all just as the new spring growth emerges.


    Bookmark   October 26, 2006 at 8:37PM
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wanda(Z9 CA)

I have one in my yard. It drops a lot of it's leaves now and goes completely deciduous by January, but it's leafing out again by March.

Some of the stuff that it's dropping at this time it due to sqirrels and birds chewing off the branches/leaves, but it seems to always drop a lot this time of year.


    Bookmark   October 27, 2006 at 2:40AM
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I have three 50 year old Chinese elms in front of my house. They weep deeply across the yard, and almost across the entire street. They are stunning.

But every year from August until about now, they shed jillions of leaves and little papery pods. Everywhere. Nonstop. It drives me nuts.

Word to the wise: the roots are wide spread, and we get little baby Chinese elms popping up all over. One of the trees started that way, I'm sure. Now it's about 45 feet tall. But gorgeous!

Don't'll lose the leaves and then leaf out again in the spring. will never be entirely without leaves.

Here's what we've got (taken last year during a commercial shoot):

    Bookmark   October 27, 2006 at 11:11PM
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Ulmus parvifolia varieties other than "Drake" are very susceptible to anthracnose, which causes cankers and die back and is impossible to fully cure. I know because a nursery sold me an infected tree in a 24" box. What I thought was normal transplanting stress turned out to be this virus. Tree is ten years old and I have to spray and prune actively to keep it presentable. Do a Google search for chinese elm anthracnose. Good luck.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2006 at 1:36PM
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Gulleyj56, I guess Im lucky, I bought a 'drake' chinese elm 2 years ago.

Which lead me to this post. I had originally planted it in my lawn (with a 3 foot basin of course) but recently realized that I planted below the soil line. I didnt know much about proper tree planting 2 years ago, but nowI knew what I had done. It grew a little, but mostly stood the same. About 3 weeks ago, i decided to dig it up as much as I could to 'raise' the level' of the 'taproot' to be a bit above the soil level and backfill the empty area in the ground. I also mulched around it and added a couple of landscape rocks.

I was afraid I might lose it because through the process of digging the hole , I may have cut a few roots. So far it seems okay, it also did a little yellowing of leaves, which worried me. But it looks okay. I hope I did the right thing, because as you can see in the pics above, it is a really beautiful tree.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2006 at 3:51PM
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Thanks so much for your responses. I'm so sorry to hear about your problems with anthracnose, gulley. I did google it as you suggested, and thankfully I don't see any symptoms on my tree. However, I don't know which variety of Ulmus parvifolia I have, so it's definitely something I will keep in mind for the future.

So far my tree still has about 50% of its leaves. We've had wind gusts of 70 mph over the past couple of days, and theyr'e still hanging on, so I guesss that's a good sign! I didn't realize there were so many varieties of Chinese Elm, which would probably explain why different trees in my neighborhood seem to have vastly different leaf drop patterns. As with every plant, I will have to wait until it's been in my garden for a year to know what to expect.

Debra, thank you so much for posting the pictures, your trees are gorgeous, and a great reminder of why I chose my tree in the first place.

Happy gardening everyone.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2006 at 3:47PM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

It may drop much less foliage once it is more established.

I have fond memories of Chinese Elm. My elementary school had mature specimens planted everywhere and I remember how sweetly cool their shade was on hot September days.

I'd never be able to fit one into my tiny yard, though.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2006 at 4:28PM
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