En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Monday - September 27, 2010

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Diseases and Disorders, Trees
Title: What to do with a sickly American elm in Austin, Texas
Answered by: Marilyn Kircus


I have an American elm that is about 6 feet tall in my yard. It is has not grown quickly this year--as compared to another American Elm that I have in another spot that is about 3 feet tall and has more than doubled in size this year. Anyway it has spots on all the leaves, white spots and brown spots, maybe some black. I thought about picking the leaves off and throwing them away, but the tree would be bare. Should I do that? Should I spray is with something? If so, what?


Ulmus americana (American elm) is native to the Austin area, but unfortunately, elms are notorious for being susceptible to various pests and diseases, including the deadly Dutch elm disease.

Since we are neither plant pathologists nor entomologists, we can't diagnose your tree's problem nor recommend treatment. However, County Extension offices do have information on plant diseases and bugs in their area, so we suggest you contact the Texas A&M AgriLIFE Extension Office for Travis County. Since the elm is a valuable tree, you might also contact a certified arborist who can tell you what, if any, treatment is advisable, and recommend a procedure.

Plants are more likely to get diseases if some of their needs are not being met.

Check for:

Soil compaction.

Tree getting too much or not enough water - be sure to water deeply.

Could tree be in caliche?

Tree getting enough sun?

Can you see any differences in soil, compared to the soil the other tree is growing in?

Putting compost around the tree and spraying with compost tea helps some trees rid themselves of various diseases.

Keep trees mulched starting about one foot from the trunk and going out to the drip line.  This will help retain water and keep the roots cooler on hot days.

From our Native Plant Image Gallery:

Ulmus americana

Ulmus americana

Ulmus americana

Ulmus americana






More Trees Questions

Looking for a plant to use as a windbreak for a small orchard in Pineville LA.
February 28, 2011 - We are looking for a good plant to use as a wind break for our small fruit orchard.
view the full question and answer

Is it safe to burn Cedar in a fireplace?
December 04, 2014 - Is it safe to burn Cedar in our fireplace? I'm trying to thin out the population of Ashe Junipers on my property in Spicewood Tx. to give the young Live Oaks a chance to compete for sunlight and w...
view the full question and answer

Southern Magnolia Damaged by Deer
April 16, 2015 - I have a young Southern Magnolia (about 6 feet tall) that was damaged by deer on the main trunk. The bottom 2 feet looks okay, but where they damaged it and tore branches off, and above that, the leav...
view the full question and answer

Life span of pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica
May 12, 2015 - Do you have any data on the lifespan of pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica) under urban conditions where is Not subject to seral succession (trees won't be permitted to overtake it)? On the other hand ...
view the full question and answer

Relocating native oak trees in compacted soil
September 14, 2008 - Can you replant and relocate small oak trees in compacted soil and will they grow or go into shock?
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center