Chinese Elm - Post mortem

Hi - My first post, hopefully this is in the right place.
Very new UK based enthusiast - been lurking in the background for sometime. :grinning:
Obviously not too well given the topic. My first tree was an Elm, like many, and I just lost it so I’m trying to confirm the cause. I (maybe foolishly) had a layer of perlite intended to provide a drainage layer at the bottom of the training pot and I suspect that had the entirely opposite effect. The soil was 2:2:1 (Peat:Compost:Grit) so likely to have been retaining too much water anyway.

I believe the images shown are root rot, likely caused by over saturation, weather in the UK has been extremely wet this year, this went unnoticed until too late. Is my identification of the symptoms correct?

I am not going ot comment on the red ‘thing’ there but I would say that mix is definitely too water retentive if you have left it in the open in a british winter. a 50/50 mix would be better, with half being grit, but then its each to their own when it comes to substrate including the time you have. I am home all day so can water 10 times if I have to, not everyone has that luxury.

You say its dead?, I see white growing roots and new green shoots so I would not say that it is not dead and is in fact starting to wake up…


It’s been a very unusual 6 months, this tree didn’t shed any leaves over the winter, then the last few weeks it started to both dump existing foliage and shoot some new greens. The leaf loss prompted me to look further and the main root was mostly mush, further exploration showed that the trunk (images 2&3) was also mostly smushy.

I haven’t saved it, and believe it was a matter of time, but I;d be curious to know firstly what people understand the condition to be and obviously if there was any corrective action advised I’d love to hear opinions.

On the soil mix front, I’ve accepted I have a few that aren’t ideally mixed and hope to fix them. I have actually sheltered many of them for much of the winter. Appreciate your time Mark.

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It surely wasn’t dead. Too wet soil lacking oxygen yes for sure which might explain drop of leaves and fight back with new shoots. Where in the UK are you exactly ?
I used to have elms in the past and based in South where freezing temperatures are rare I experienced elm might keep the leaves over winter. This year was super warm so makes sense yours didn’t shed them.
Chinese Elms are very forgiving trees and if conditions improved (in your case to repot and give it a mix of soil to increase oxygen level) they bounce back in no time even if looking completely dead.

I see callus if you ask me when it comes to your question re orange bits.

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My Chinese elm sprouts leaves much later than my other trees. It buds out around the same time or a little later than my European beech. The old leaves were probably dropped as a result of the new leaves pushing out. Mine also stay on the tree abnormally long.

I have mine in the 1:1:1 mix that Ryan recommends for pines, but when I repot I may switch to acadama with a little pumice mixed in. I live in Northern California, though, and it is very dry in the summer, so I prefer the soil to be more moisture-retentive. In the winter, which is wet, I keep an eye on my trees to make sure they have a chance to dry out if there is extended rain.

Peat/compost/grit will keep your trees too wet.

Along with what other people have said, if it were my tree and I wanted to save it, I might put it in a grow box filled with pumice, as if it were a collected tree. Don’t water it for several weeks. If leaves start to push, you can mist them. [Re-reading your post, I see that you didn’t keep the tree. You might keep in mind this technique for other trees that need rescuing.]

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I’m in South East Wales, I think in hindsight I used a broad recommendation without considering some of the appropriate contextual factors about tree type, climate and storage location etc on soil mix. So the recommendations to change the water retentive nature of the mix is certainly taken on board.

Hopefully this is a case of treating the cause, but I remain curious about the symptoms. I’ve read elsewhere that root root carries a strong smell, which wasn’t the case here - so I’m concerned it was some other unidentified external influence. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

Autopsy on those still alive.

As has already been mentioned, I don’t think your tree is dead at all.

It has green leaves coming out.

To know whether a branch or tree is dead the easiest way is to scrape the bark and look at the Cambia layer.

If it’s brown Then it’s dead.

It looks like you’re keeping things on the side.

It’s not the soil mixture. It’s the watering frequency.

Not organic soil with hydrant needs to be watered often. And the opposite is also true.

If you still have it, stick it back in the ground And allow some sun to revive the thing.

Elm trees are pretty tolerant in general and also of wet conditions and it’s pretty hard to kill them unless you dry them out 100%.

I always scrape the bark and check before tossing trees.

By the way, I seem to have a loss of large trees.

This last winter was especially bad.

I think I really need to ramp up my pre-dormancy spray treatments

Ahh you never said you were in Wales!!!.. In that case I’d go with a 1:1:1 pine like mix. This will give you plenty of oxygen and the ability to water when ever needed, not that you would need to much with the constant Welsh rains. I always tend to go for less water retentive so I do not worry about over watering but again I can water several times in the day if required.

As I mentioned, substrate for me is always a personal choice. What works for you may not work at all for your next door neighbor due to local garden microclimates etc etc. The mix I used in Essex needed to be different to the mix I used in Devon due to it being wetter where I was in Devon. Now living in Normandy France I have had to changed up my mix once more and work out whats best for my situation here.

I would start with a 1:1:1 and go from there. If you find its getting too dry too quick and you can’t keep up with watering then next repot add more akadama etc.

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