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Sunday - September 14, 2008

From: San Antonio, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Diseases and Disorders, Pruning, Trees
Title: Pruning mature cedar elm trees in San Antonio
Answered by: Barbara Medford


When is the right time to prune my several mature cedar elm trees? I'm in San Antonio, and they have never been trimmed in the 55 years we have lived in this home. I have several that are at least 70 ft tall and they need cleaning up. I wouldn't want to harm them, though.


Ulmus crassifolia (cedar elm) is a native North American deciduous tree which reach 50 to 90 feet in height with a spread of 40 to 60 feet. It would be a low maintenance shade and street tree except for its thin drooping branches which are somewhat susceptible to breakage at the crotches of major limbs. Some of this could be avoided by maintaining a regular pruning and training program in the early years after transplanting. For more information, see this USDA Forest Service website on Cedar Elm.Your elms have already had a pretty good life span, at 55+ years, and are at a height to be expected at their age. They have a fairly long life span, perhaps 150 to 300 years. So, at first glance, we could say your elms have been doing just fine, and need no trimming, etc.

However, the main drawback to the elm is Dutch elm disease. Dutch elm disease was first discovered in Ohio in 1930. Spores of the disease are carried on the bodies of elm bark beetles and are deposited in tree wounds. The beetles, perhaps introduced accidentally from Asia, attacked trees that had not had a chance to develop a resistance to the disease over time. It is caused by a fungus transmitted by two species of bark beetles.

Avoid pruning from April to August. The elm bark beetle is attracted to freshly cut elm and is most active during this period. Prune dead or dying branches from Fall to late Winter. We would urge you to engage a licensed arborist, for several reasons. They will be aware of the potential problems for the elm tree, and know when is the appropriate time for pruning. Also, they will have the equipment and expertise for dealing with such a large tree. Please don't climb up your trees with a chain saw. You will possibly damage a whole lot more than the tree.

Ulmus crassifolia

Ulmus crassifolia

Ulmus crassifolia

Ulmus crassifolia



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