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On Gardening: Lacebark elm offers fall and winter magic

Norman Winter, Tribune News Service on

Published in Gardening News

The lacebark elm met Old Man Winter's confrontation head-on and won and is now showing out in the Chattahoochee Valley area of West Georgia. While record cold took its toll by freezing leaves to the tree, these small elms are decorating neighborhoods with a soft, orange and yellow glow.

The lacebark elm is known botanically as Ulmus parvifolia and is from China and Korea. This foreign beauty is resistant to Dutch elm disease that wreaked havoc on our native American elm. It is also resistant to Japanese beetles that have become a recent scourge in our area. To be honest, this is one of the most problem-free trees for the landscape. It is also a manageable size that over time can reach 50 feet tall and as wide.

As the leaves fall, they create a yellow carpet that is worthy of capturing a shot with the camera. This year, for whatever reason, the bark which always catches my eye is even more beautiful. Perhaps the bone-chilling, 22 degrees had an influence. More than likely it is just me rediscovering the incredible beauty that can make a fall and winter landscape seem so beautiful.

The bark is where it stands apart from the hybrid red maples. While it's called lacebark which is most appropriate, it would also make the perfect pattern for a camouflage outfit. The bark exfoliates revealing shades of orange, brown, gray, and olive green. Not too many trees can match this one in color and design.

At the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens in Savannah Ga., where it got its start as a USDA Plant Introduction Station, there was an old specimen that had stood the test of time and was like a living monument to a great and wonderful era of plant exploration. Those in West Georgia are young relatively speaking and in their prime.

After a dozen years, they are about 20 feet tall and 18 feet wide offering a perfect size for the urban environment. In the summer, their leaves are dark green and handsome leading up the fall fling. Some trials report that the color on this species is better in the south, but, certainly, this is not a deterrent in its colder zone 5 or protected zone 4 regions.

In the south, Drake is among the most popular varieties as it is considered semi-evergreen. Northern gardeners instead, choose Emerald Isle and Emerald Vase in addition to a new release called Burgundy. The Bosque variety with its straight central-leader would be excellent for parks, street-side, and shopping centers.


Once you select the variety for your region choose a site with plenty of sun. The soil should be fertile and well-drained. They are not picky about soil pH which is great for everyone. Even though they are quick to acclimate dig your planting hole two-to-three times as wide as the root ball. This allows for the quickest root-expansion into the adjacent soil. The lacebark is considered a fast grower for a quality tree. Normally fast-growing is in connection with inferior, short-lived trees.

The winter reveals whether or not we planned for form and structure in our gardens and the use of bark is important. If we choose the right trees like the lacebark elm, we will realize that even though they are deciduous they will make a dramatic landscape impact.

(Norman Winter, horticulturist, garden speaker and author of, "Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South" and "Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden." Follow him on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy.)

(c)2019 Norman Winter

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