Sunday, September 16, 2012

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My Big Miniature Elm

Yatsubusa Chinese elm in my garden
Yatsubusa Chinese elm
I’ve always wanted an elm tree, but somehow it has never worked out. Ditto for a bonsai. So what did I do last weekend? I bought a large version of a very popular elm used for bonsai –  Ulmus parvifolia Yatsubusa or the Yatsubusa Chinese elm.

It wasn't planned. At the time, I was looking for a Little Lime hydrangea to fill a spot recently vacated by some Queen Anne’s Lace. And, as long as I was at my favorite nursery, I decided to drift over to the sale area. After all, you never know what unusual bargains you might find this time of year.

Then I saw it, sitting by itself, almost overshadowed by some magnolias and dogwoods. It had tiny little leaves, barely more than three-quarters of an inch in length, with serrated edges and wonderfully corky bark.  This tree definitely needed some TLC. How could I resist? It practically whispered my name.

Or at least that’s what I told my husband when I got home. I had to admit that I didn’t have a clue as to where I was going to put it, nor if it would even look good with the mostly native flowers in my garden.

Bark Yatsubusa Chinese elm
A closeup of the bark
I guess I should have taken the Fifth. Or at least renewed my pledge to start a 12-step program for hortiholics.

Anyway, I think my husband was amused by my description of it as a big miniature elm. Guess it reminded him of the old George Carlin joke about JUMBO shrimp.

It was then and there that I decided to research my new tree. Almost every Website described its use only as a bonsai. Some said the Yatsubusha (which means "dwarf" in Japanese) is hardy to zone 6. A couple mentioned Zone 5, which I'm hoping is correct since that's where my garden is located.

Like most elms, it requires full sun. It's a slow grower -- supposedly 10’ tall and 6’ wide at maturity. One site estimated its height as 6’ after 10 years. Given that it apparently is about 4-5 years old at this point and 4 feet tall,  I probably won’t have to worry about its height anytime soon.

The perfect spot in my garden? It didn't exist. My only option was to extend an exising bed into an area of my yard that is mostly very heavy, very compacted clay. I've been avoiding this area for years.

But I was on a mission! I had to give an orphan tree a good home! So I spent much of this weekend on prep work. I dug up weeds. I stripped sod. I forked the soil. I mixed in cotton burr compost and composted manure.

At one point, I paused in the 80-degree weather and asked myself if this little elm was a "bargain" after all. But I shook it off, pruned off most of the bottom branches and planted it.

Yatsubusha Chinese elm
Of course, at this point, the tree looks like it could use some other plants around the bottom. I'm not sure exactly what to put there as the scale will have to be just right. Any suggestions?

Or maybe I should just hit some more sales?

Hmmm....If I do, this time I'll make sure I have a place to put something before I buy it.

By Karen Geisler


  1. I'd go with a low groundcover that takes shade, like Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) or False Forget-me-not (Brunnera macrophylla). And plant some small bulbs, crocus or galanthus!

    1. There's not a lot of shade yet, as the tree is pretty small. I love bulbs, so crocus or galanthus would be a good idea. Also considering species tulips. Thanks for the suggestions!

  2. How I wish for the elms of my childhood so this is a great find...I love the idea of bulbs for now with annuals until you get a good idea of the space.