The Siberian Elm Tree - Love It Or Hate It
The Siberian elm is one of those trees which is perfect in some situations and a terrible choice in others. It has both attractive and undesirable characteristics. For example, the Siberian elm can make a great privacy hedge as the more you prune it, the denser the branches and foliage become. If your neighbor is in the habit of keeping a fleet of old cars on his property, you can screen them away with a Siberian elm hedge planted along the property line. Forget to prune the hedge for a year though and it will simply take over. In other words this is a very useful tree, and is found in most states of the Union, but it is considered an invasive species in most of those states.
Fast Growing, Fast Spreading - The Siberian elm, which as the name implies is indigenous to Siberia, Mongolia, and eastern and northern Asia, is usually a terribly large tree though some specimens can reach a height of up to 70 feet. It is a fast growing tree. It spreads its seeds via small winged seed pods, some what similar to maple tree "helicopters", but in this case only a single blade is involved. The single oval shaped wing is sufficient though to allow the seed to be carried some distance by the wind. The ability of the Siberian elm to seed itself, and the fact that it can grow rapidly is what makes it invasive. If you plant a Siberian elm in your lawn, your neighbors may have them growing in their lawns in a few short years unless they regularly pull out the young shoots and saplings!
The Siberian elm is not all bad boy however, and has been planted in many cities as a shade tree and because it is not susceptible to Dutch Elm disease. It is however somewhat susceptible to insect infestation and, as the wood is quite brittle, falling branches can present a problem, if not a threat. The Siberian elm was a tree which enjoyed a great deal of popularity when first planted in the Great Plains as well as on city streets, only to begin to show its true colors once mature. Still, the tree has retained its popularity in many locales throughout the United States. If looking for an alternative, and if Dutch elm disease is a potential threat, one suggestion is to look for one of the varieties of oak tree, especially those varieties which commonly grow in your part of the country. Basswood is another possible choice.
The Siberian elm, Ulmus pumila, due to its uneven crown, brittle wood, invasive habits, unspectacular flowering, rough gray bark, and prolific spreading of its seed, has been described as a "poor" tree, and one "not worth planting in anyone's garden, and only suitable for growing in its native environment, the Gobi desert", though these negative remarks are usually tempered by noting that it is a wonderful shade tree and difficult to ignore as an excellent hedge (if regularly pruned).
Not The Best Choice - All in all, this tree is not usually the best choice one can make. There are other excellent shade trees, though many are not as rapid growing, and in the case with most trees you'll find in residential areas or along city streets, it's not necessary to chase down the seed pods once they've flown from the tree, or pull up young sprouts the following spring. Even those who still like to think of Arbor Day as a national holiday and love most every type of tree, will often have second thoughts when offered the chance to plant a Siberian elm.