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Zelkova - Growing Guide

Growing Zelkova

Zelkova are hardy ornamental parkland trees which have equal standing in this sphere to the similarly deciduous species of Nothofagus (southern beech). Zelkova are however related to Ulmus (elms) and are commonly mistaken as these because of the similarity of their leaves which are also coarse to the touch. They differ from elms in having rounded rather than winged fruits and in their simple (rather than double) toothed leaves. Zelkova flowers are small and greenish and of no great significance although both male and bisexual flowers appear on the same tree.

Z. serrata originates from Korea, Japan and Taiwan. It has a broad spreading habit and, at Caerhays, we have made the error of not giving it enough space to spread and develop in its chosen planting spot. Z. serrata can grow up to 100ft tall with a spread at least half this in maturity. The tree has smooth grey bark and 5in long dark green leaves with up to 16 teeth on each side. Autumn colours range from yellow to orange or red and, while not perhaps the most spectacular, they are certainly well worth their place.

Z. abelicea from Crete is a much smaller growing tree achieving only 15ft in height with a similar spread. Relatively young plants produced fruits in the nursery after the hot summer of 2018. The glossy green leaves are only 1in or so long with up to six or seven teeth on either side.

Z. carpinifolia, the Caucasian elm, also grows well at Caerhays and has a spread equivalent to its height which is currently about 30ft in height some 25 years from planting. This species has a stout trunk with erect spreading stems. The leaves are around 4in long and ovate as well as also being dark green. Each has 10 broad teeth on each side and the leaves turn orange brown in autumn.

Zelkova seeds can be sown in pots outdoors in the autumn. Softwood cuttings are only likely to succeed if taken from young plants.


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