Growing Concerns 570: Replacements for ash trees

Late Spring!

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Dear Janet,

I'm looking for info on a "Village Green" variety Zelkova tree. We're considering it for our full sun S.E. exposure front yard (replacing an Ash tree that was on the other side of the front). I understand it's similar in appearance to an American Elm with an added benefit of turning a russet red in the fall. We are looking for a large shade tree.  Does anyone know where I could see a growing tree on it's way to maturity?


Dear D.,

Zelkova (Z. serrata) is a sturdy medium size shade tree, 50 to 70 feet tall. Its limbs spread up and out to make a vase that's wider than it is tall, a great shape for casting shade from on high. People can walk beneath a zelkova without bumping into low hanging branches and the lawn will not be shaded out. Zelkovas may turn wine red in fall but they're as likely to be bronze.

'Village Green' and "Green Vase' are varieties you're likely to find at area nurseries. 'Village Green' was selected for a reliably straight trunk, 'Green Vase' for its fast growth rate in youth, up to 36 inches per year versus 18 to 24 inches for the species.

Since a shade tree can be a lifetime fixture you're wise to  look at the full grown tree before you choose. You were also smart to ask the right questions of a salesperson who not only knows the plants in the nursery but recognizes them in the landscape.

Short reports

A city of great trees

Deciding on a tree to replace your ash tree, working from the list I've published here and made available to readers?  You may think those trees are too unusual to be shopped in the way that D is shopping for a zelkova. Not so! They are not common, and that's the point, that we should not plant all the same few, already-overused species to replace the millions of ashes we're losing. But they are not rare. 

Japanese tree lilac(Syringa reticulata).

Redbud(Cercis canadensis).

Kousa dogwood(Cornus kousa).

Golden rain tree(Kolreuteria paniculata).

Hackberry(Celtis occidentalis).

Maidenhair tree(Ginkgo biloba).

American linden or basswood(Tilia americana).

Bur oak(Quercus macrocarpa).

Kentucky coffee tree(Gymnocladus dioicus)

Dawn redwood(Metasequoia glyptostroboides) is a fast growing big tree that's a clean pyramidal form in the landscape.

 Originally published 6/12/04


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