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Chinese Elm?

 
shauna carr
Posts: 84
Location: Sonoran Desert, USA
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I hear a lot of bad things about this tree and how it's roots will spread so far it can become problematic for piping, other plants, for all sorts of things.

However, I have a yard with a chinese elm in it. The roots haven't spread very far, best I can tell. I can eat the new leaves and the small flower/seeds that it has, although the only shade it gives is to my neighbors. This tree has been here the entire time I have, 9 years, and is about the same size it was when I moved in (maybe 15-20 feet tall, but skinny still, no big canopy). I'm in an arid desert with alkaline soil, 12 inches of rain a year, and temperatures up to 117 F. And I'm wondering if the soil, the low rain (I almost never water this thing), or the climate is keeping it small.

If I improve the soil and start harvesting water more in the area around this tree, and the soil becomes a little less alkaline, could this tree become problematic? I am honestly wondering if I should let this tree alone, or if it will really be a problem for the desert food forest I am hoping to grow and I should chop it down for mulch. Any thoughts? Information on this tree? Experiences with Chinese Elm?

I'd appreciate any help ya'll might be able to provide.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Location: Phoenix, AZ (9b)
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The City of Phoenix has approved these trees for streetside and parkinglot trees because they seem to be able to take the reflected heat and confine conditions presented in these situations well. They do like more water than our natives and are listed as "moderate" water users.

I have two at my house. One has been there for about 15 years and has a canopy that's about 35 ft in diameter. The other one was planted three years ago and is just starting to get to the tipping point where it takes off. The big one is on my SW side and shades what used to be a hotspot in my yard - I'm really thankful for it. While it doesn't get water directly, it does feed off the watering system to nearby shrubs, etc. The one in back lives off water from my outdoor shower. It will eventually shade the hen yard and the outdoor shower itself.

When I trim this tree, I do chop and drop - it makes great mulch.
 
shauna carr
Posts: 84
Location: Sonoran Desert, USA
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Thanks, Jennifer. I'm so glad to hear that - I kind of like the tree, honestly, so I was hoping to hold onto it.^_^

Do you have native plants that are doing well near your elm? What seems to grow all right with it here?
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Location: Phoenix, AZ (9b)
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I'm currently in the process of redoing that area of my yard - it used to have sunken veggie beds in it that did well. However, I got tired of paying the water bills so the idea is to put an all-native garden there now that will block the low western sun in the summertime (a killer as you know!) I think natives will do fine under it. Right now this tree is soaking up some water from a bee bush and a couple of emu bushes - they are on the periphery of the drip line (because the veggie beds used to be under it).
 
Brett Andrzejewski
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Location: Buffalo, NY
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These trees are all over Albuquerque. In the 1800's the mayor of Albuquerque wanted to 'green the desert' and brought them from across the Atlantic and planted them all over the city. Since then the little seeds have made it all over the state and can be found anywhere with the smallest amount of moisture.

The Siberian elm, often called the Chinese elm, is a pioneer plant with weak branch/limb structure. I've been told its job is to be a pioneer plant, drop its branches and leaves and make soil for the forest. I've seen the roots of the Siberian elm travel 50 feet or more for the moisture it needs. I've seen them break cement sidewalks (trunk and roots), I've seen them break into pipes for the moisture they need, I've also seen them out compete all sorts of plants. I have also seen the tree fall through people's houses and drop 2000+ pound branches through peoples roofs. With that said, I've seen them restore sandy desert to moist soil. I've used their branches and twigs for firewood. I've used them as a biomass accumulator before I knew about Permaculture.

I personally try and use them for a biomass accumulator and pioneer plant. I will let them grow all season and then cut them during the winter. I chop and repeat until I've exhausted its energy and soil is built. The Permaculture farmer I work with uses them as shade to establish fruit bearing trees and then uses the larger branches and trunk for most of his home heating.

As for Siberian elm structure, I've seen them with a single trunk that was about 10 feet in diameter in a lolly pop fashion. I've seen others that never get more than a large bush and grow new bifurcations at the base rather than get bigger. I believe the Siberian elm will grow the way it wants to grow, regardless of how you prune it.

The Siberian elms in my neck of the desert put roots in very shallow. If you see the tree start to tilt ever so slightly you need to cut it before it falls on your house. If a large branch is over your house I recommend cutting it along with a branch on the opposite of the tree for balance. From my experience the tree will hardly notice the missing branches and will grow new ones the next spring.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Just for clarification - Siberian elm and Chinese elm, though often confused, are actually two different trees:

Siberian elm: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulmus_pumila
Chinese elm: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_elm
 
Brett Andrzejewski
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Thanks for the additional clarification, the tree I mentioned in my previous post is the Siberian Elm although a lot of Albueruquerians call them the Chinese elm.
 
shauna carr
Posts: 84
Location: Sonoran Desert, USA
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Thanks for the clarification - always a danger when discussing common names as opposed to latin, eh?

I definitely have the official Chinese Elm as opposed to the Siberian Elm, phew!

And I just figured since we're discussing the tree anyway, I'd share the information I found on the edible properties of it, for any premies who have it and want yet another use.
http://www.eattheweeds.com/chinese-elm-a-tree-that-doesnt-go-dutch-2/

I've eaten the new leaves - still soft and flexible, compared to the thicker and heavier texture of the older leaves - and the samaras (the little seeds with the thin, papery coatings on them) over the last year and did quite well. The flavor is nothing of note, not flavorful nor bitter, just, well, bland, really. Just something to add to a dish that already has flavor from other sources.
 
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