How Do I Know If My Elm Tree Is Dying?

Discovering that something is wrong with a beloved tree on your property can be devastating. But the good news is that not all tree diseases are deadly. If you suspect your tree is sick or dying, the best course of action is to contact a local arborist or tree service professional. In the meantime, read on to see how long you can expect your tree to live, and how to spot common elm diseases. 

How Long Do Elm Trees Live?

How Long Do Elm Trees Live

The lifespan of an elm tree depends on the species, as it varies greatly among varieties. The outlook also depends on how well-suited the tree is for its growing conditions, and how well it’s been taken care of. 

Here are the average life expectancies of some of the most common elm trees:

  • American Elm Tree: These trees used to have a life expectancy of around 400 years before Dutch elm disease took hold of native trees in the 1930s. Once much of the population succumbed to the illness, the lifespan dropped down to anywhere from 150-300 years.
  • Camperdown Elm Tree: These elms, which are native to the United Kingdom, live for an average of 150 years. 
  • Chinese Elm Tree: Also known as the lacebark elm, the Chinese elm tree lives anywhere from 50-150 years.  
  • Cherry Bark Elm Trees: The lifespan of a cherry bark elm tree is about 100 years. These trees are native to Eastern Asia and the Himalayas. 
  • Cedar Elm Tree: Cedar elms trees, also known as Texas elms, are native to the Southern United States. Their life expectancy is about 100 years. 
  • Rock Elm Tree: Also known as cork elms due to their cork-like branches, these trees are native to the Midwestern United States. Rock elm trees live an estimated 300 years. 

What Is Wrong With My Elm Tree?

What Is Wrong With My Elm Tree?

There are many different diseases and issues that can affect elm trees, unfortunately. The best thing you can do to minimize damage and protect your trees is to know the symptoms of disease and act quickly when you spot the signs. 

Here are some of the most common diseases that affect elm trees:

Black Leaf Spot

This disease affects many types of trees, including elms. The symptoms are small, black, raised spots on leaves that cause the foliage to yellow and fall prematurely. 

This disease is not fatal or particularly bad for the rest of the tree, and no treatment is necessary. Raking up leaves shortly after they fall from the branches can help to stop the spread to other trees in the area. 

Dutch Elm Disease

This fatal elm disease, which spreads via elm bark beetles, was introduced in the 1920s and has killed many millions of elm trees since then. The key to success with this disease is prevention.

In some cases, removing infected limbs on newly infected elms can stop the progression of Dutch elm disease. But those that are too far gone need to be removed immediately to prevent the spread to neighboring elm trees. 

Botryodiplodia Canker

This illness is distinguishable by cankers that form on twigs and branches of elm trees. The wood of infected branches becomes a reddish-brown color, and the leaves will yellow and fall.

To stop the spread of Botryodiplodia Canker, prune the affected branches well below each canker. Make sure you disinfect your pruning tools frequently.

Elm Yellows

This is another fatal elm tree disease that leaves a wields a prognosis. The leaves turn yellow, wilt, and fall early. 

Infected trees could die in as little as one year from the start of the disease. Since infected trees attract elm bark beetles, the only option is to remove all infected trees as soon as possible.  

Root Rot

There are several types of root rot that may affect elm trees that vary in presentation. Many types of root rot weaken the branches and trunk of the tree and leaves often become sparse.

Since the structure of the tree is weak and the danger of it toppling over is significant, infected elms will likely need to be removed immediately. 


This bacterial infection involves a smelly liquid that oozes from branch stubs, pruning cuts, or other wounds in the tree. The substance can kill bark or grass wherever it lands. 

Fortunately, it’s not common for wetwood to spread to other trees in the area. There is no treatment available for the infection, but it generally goes away on its own as long as the tree is in good health otherwise. 

For a good visual presentation of some common elm tree issues, check out this video:

How To Prune an Elm Tree?

Regular pruning and maintenance of elm trees, particularly younger trees, can help to keep them healthy and stave off harmful diseases.

While pruning mature trees can be dangerous and is best done by a professional, you can prune your younger trees.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Wait until the leaves have dropped in the fall, or in late winter before the growing season starts. Any fresh cut on the tree could invite infection during the spring and summer.
  • Remove dead branches from your tree.
  • Reduce the number of co-dominant branches, or stems that are close in size with one another and are competing to become the main stem of the tree (also known as the “leader”). 
  • If a leader doesn’t stick out, just choose one to be the main branch towards the top of the tree and cut the nearby branches.
  • Reduce the size of the leader branch by about ⅓ and cut off the small branches that are within 6-12 inches of the tip of the leader branch.
  • Remove the branches that are growing towards the main stem. All new growth should point away from the stem. 
  • Remove the lower branches on the lower ⅓ of the tree, unless the stem of the leader is very thin. In that case, just reduce the size of the lower branches by half.

We tend to take trees on our property for granted and expect that they are going to be there forever. Many homeowners aren’t aware of the maintenance that is needed to ensure that their trees continue to thrive.

With all of the information on elm tree disease in mind, try to make a habit of walking through your yard at least a couple of times per month to scan your trees for any potential issues. 

2 thoughts on “How Do I Know If My Elm Tree Is Dying?”

  1. My American Elm is randomly dropping branches and looks healthy from the outside. But on inspection of the down section/inner portion I see dark discoloration in the core or the core is hollowed out. I’m quite sure the tree needs to come down completely because it is unsafe. Unfortunately, this tree is the main shade for our yard – it was planted in 1920.


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