Did I mention that a giant branch broke off our Siberian Elm (Ulmus pumila) the day before I got home? I think I did. Judy was in the back garden at the time, inspecting our new grill, so it’s lucky she wasn’t hurt. She said it happened so fast there wouldn’t have been time to step aside if the branch were falling on top of her.


Siberian Elm has gotten a lot of bad press over the years. Michael Dirr called it “a disastrous tree”. The folks at the Morton Arboretum say it has invasive tendencies, weak wood and branch structure, and is “prone to breaking apart in storms”. Except that it was a perfectly calm day when this happened.

The tree is also susceptible to borers, scale insects, and elm leaf beetles – though the guy at the Wild Birds Unlimited store says that also makes it attractive to insect-eating birds.


Even so, this was a popular tree with home builders for a time. It’s fast growing (contributes to weak wood) and resistant to Dutch elm disease. And so there is a Siberian Elm in many of the backyards of our neighborhood.


After settling in at home I got out my loppers and my saw and tried to hack out a path from the back door to our new grill, because Judy was really looking forward to cooking our Sunday dinner outside. (It was delicious.)

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The troll doesn’t get excited over a few falling branches. 

On Monday an arborist came over to take a look. He’s going to clear out the debris in a couple of days and return later to trim the dead wood (of which there is quite a lot) out of the tree.

Even though our Siberian Elm is an ongoing headache, I was still relieved when he said we didn’t have to take the whole thing down. A mature shade tree is a mature shade tree, and losing one is always distressing.

Do you now or have you ever had a Siberian Elm in your garden?

44 Comments on “TIMBER!!!”

  1. I grew up with a few elms, I don’t know what kind. The county, or state, or some official people would come by and hang little house traps on them now and again. Then return to check them for, well, I guess whatever causes Dutch elm disease.
    Now I have a total of three trees! 2 incense cedars and a deodar cedar (gorgeous, I wish I could trade the incenses for more!). Lots of shrubbery, but just the three trees, if you don’t count two fruit trees in raised beds, a baby volunteer oak and a few Arbor Day tree babies! 3 trees sounds awfully pathetic now that I say it. My soil is terrible clay, and the cedars were here before the houses, so I’m glad they left them.

  2. Yikes, that must have been scary for Judy! We have never had a Siberian Elm but did have a number of weeping willows. After a very serious ice storm that left most of them completely busted up we had them taken down, which was very distressing. I’m glad Judy wasn’t hurt!

  3. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a Siberian elm around here. Several years ago the neighbor’s corkscrew willow came crashing down. I was outside painting the house and I heard this strange creaky noise, stopped to look around, and saw the whole tree, all 30+ feet of it, come crashing down in his yard. Glad nothing or no one ws damaged in both fatal falls.

  4. I’m not familiar with that particular tree, but I understand about a mature shade tree. I also appreciate that it didn’t fall and hit Judy or damage anything else. Our neighbor has a tree with a huge dead branch just kind of balanced on a couple of other branches. I keep avoiding the area the best I can and wish it would just get on with it and fall down so I don’t have to worry about it anymore.

  5. That is one big limb. I am glad it didn’t conk Judy or anyone else on the head or break your pots. No Elms here. I don’t know of any around here. We have a big Ash tree in our garden. It tends to shed limbs too.

  6. Thankfully, Judy wasn’t hurt! Our pecan trees do that and some of the weaker wooded non-native trees. You’re right though, a shade tree, even if it isn’t the “best” tree, is not something you want to randomly remove.

    • The Siberian Elms really don’t have the graceful form of the American Elms. I understand there are some new Hybrid Elms developed at Chicago’s Morton Arboretum and elsewhere, that combine resistance with something closer to the form of the American Elm.

  7. We do have a couple of elms trees on the property but I’m not sure if they are Siberian Elm or not (they were here before we moved in). I do feel your pain, though. I have an ash tree that has been attacked by the emerald ash borer and is on it’s last legs. To avoid a possible disaster, we are having it cut down within the next couple of weeks. As you say, cutting down a shade tree, especially a mature one, is always sad.

  8. Siberian elm has not been available here as long as I can remember, but has naturalized in some riparian areas. The modern cultivars of elm that are available are nothing like the old classics. I do not like them much just because they are of such weird breeding, and I sort of don’t trust them.

  9. We have cedar elm, and there may still be some American elm around, but I’ve never heard of Siberian elm. When I did some exploring, I found it’s listed on the Texas invasive plant database, and that it’s considered noxious in some states. The websites I visited mentioned that it’s also brittle and given to ‘unpredictable breaking’ of limbs — which Judy found out! I’m glad she wasn’t hurt.

  10. I wish I had neighbors like you; most of our neighbors are apt to cut down any tree, healthy or not. I’ve noticed lots of elm and maple seeds on nearby trees and I’m wondering if they’re more stressed this year.

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