On Gardening

Lacebark elm stunning in the winter landscape

McClatchy-Tribune News ServiceDecember 7, 2012 

The lacebark elm’s splendor comes from its fall leaf color and the incredible beauty of its bark. These mesmerizing traits seem to go unnoticed, or at least unappreciated, while the trees are full of green leaves.

The lacebark elm, known botanically as Ulmus parvifolia, is from China and Korea. Though a foreign substitute, this one is resistant to Dutch elm disease that wreaked havoc on our native American elm. Lacebark elm is one of the most problem-free landscape trees and is also a manageable size. Over time, it can reach 50 feet tall, and as wide.

We have several at the Columbus (Ga.) Botanical Garden and they offer good color in shades of red, combined with pink and yellow. As the leaves fell, they created a picturesque yellow carpet. Now that the leaves are almost all off, the lacebark is the showiest.

After a dozen years, ours are about 20 feet tall and 18 feet wide – a perfect size for the urban environment. The leaves are dark green and handsome during the summer, 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.

Don’t forget the other incredible attribute, its bark. While it’s called lacebark, which is most appropriate, it would also make the perfect pattern for a camouflage outfit. The bark exfoliates itself, revealing shades of orange, brown, gray and olive green. Not many trees can match this one in color and design.

In the South, the Drake is among the most popular varieties, as it is considered semi-evergreen. It is considered cold hardy to Zone 7, which encompasses most of the Triangle.

Choose a site with plenty of sun. The soil should be fertile and well-drained. Lacebark elms are not picky about soil pH and 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 (often, fast growth is linked to inferior, short-lived trees).

The dormant season reveals whether 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, they will make a dramatic impact in late fall and winter once leaves have fallen and bark is exposed. As spring planting season rolls around, give the lacebark strong consideration for your landscape.

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