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Hi can anyone can help us newbie gardeners with the following We have a small (20mx10m) copse of elm trees (and elder) all of which have dutch elm even the small ones are showing signs of the disease.

Is it possible to plant different tree species under the elms to slowly replace them and if so what uk native (ish) species would you recomend with the best chance of survival and relatively fast growing?

Despite the disease the canopy is quite dense in the summer. The copse is on a slope, soil is quite dark and fertile with chalk subsoil. (Suffolk)

Most people we have asked have said just choose the trees you like, but we would like to avoid wasting money and time if at all possible, and improve the appearance, over time, of our small piece of woodland garden!

Any ideas would be much appreciated!

Thanks in advance



  • ObelixxObelixx Posts: 29,160
    First of all are you sure it is Dutch elm disease because it should not be affecting elders.  See here -   Have you had a confirmed diagnosis from a qualified tree scientist or a tree conservation organisation?

    Secondly, if the existing trees are dying they are, at some point, going to have to be felled and removed which will be somewhat problematical if you have new trees trying to grow and which are then in the way and liable to be damaged or killed, thus incurring extra costs.  Much easier, and therefore cheaper, to clear trees without any obstacles and then prepare the ground and plant new specimens.

    Vendée - 20kms from Atlantic coast.
    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • I thought the same @Obelixx , why go to the expense and also waste time planting new trees only for them to be felled when the oaks either fall or are cut down. Better to start afresh if indeed your elders are diseased.  You need someone in the know to confirm if diseased and advice on replanting. Good luck and let us know the outcome @robertmoore.00
  • Got something similar to what you describe to one side of the gateway to where I live. Our area of diseased elm can be seen in this recent video clip showing one of the trees I have planted there. It was a garden of the original farm house on the land which is now derelict and the area is fairly wild with willow, elm, elder, brambles, nettles, ground elder, vinca and some other plants growing wild. I even discovered a nice variegated laurel under the nettles and brambles that I have brought back to good health over the last couple of years removing the nettles and brambles growing through it and over it.

    The elm dying back from what I have been told was Dutch elm disease looks fairly ugly so last summer when I had the free time I went at them with a loppers and hand saw and cut down any that showed signs of disease. There were none of the elm after growing very big with the largest I cut down still being less than 8metres in height. The biggest one was completely dead from the disease. Even these small trees could have damaged a young tree if it had been planted underneath and Obelixx makes a good point that you might be better clearing the area a bit before planting.

    I would not want to clear it completely as with the dense growth I think it makes a good shelter for wildlife and when chopping down the dead and dying trees I just left them where they fell. I have since then most recently planted a paulonia tomentosa and Viburnum lantana with the second smaller tree selected for a spot directly under a power cable so hopefully it stays to a size where it will not interfere with the power line. You should be able to get small trees from good nurseries as bare root forestry whips for 3euros or less at about 1metre height so some of these might be an option if you don't want to spend a lot on what you are planting. I also find I get lots of tree saplings self seeding in the garden and have also taken some self seeded trees from neighbors and my parents garden and moved them to places where they will have space to grow to their full size. You might have some neighbors who would be happy to have some of these removed for them and this could cost just the time required to dig them up and replant them in your woodland area. If you are planting trees for wildlife then oak, ash, mountain ash or white thorn and blackthorn might be good choices but look around at what grows well locally.

  • LiriodendronLiriodendron Posts: 8,029
    My understanding is that the majority of elms in Britain have died from dutch elm disease.  However, they often re-sprout from the roots, and reach about 15-20 feet in height before succumbing once more to the disease.  If you have small elm trees, this will almost certainly be what has happened.  Those of us of a "certain age" will remember majestic mature elm trees - as big as an oak tree - common until the early 1970s, I think.  No more... sadly.
    Since 2019 I've lived in east Clare, in the west of Ireland.
  •  I would have thought it important to burn any dead, or dying diseased trees before planting any more trees. Get specialist advice if you want to develop a woodland copse, before wasting any time, effort or energy planting new trees.
  •  I would have thought it important to burn any dead, or dying diseased trees before planting any more trees. Get specialist advice if you want to develop a woodland copse, before wasting any time, effort or energy planting new trees.

    Where I live it is illegal to burn material you might view as waste from your garden under environmental protection legislation as doing so is detrimental to air quality.

    There are many trees not susceptible to Dutch elm disease and planting a variety of young trees in a small area as described in the opening post would likely lead to at least some of them not being damaged by whatever is attacking the elm trees. The cost of buying a few small young trees to fill the gaps in the woodland being opened up by the diseased trees being removed would be much lower than the fee of a professional tree pathologist. As long as there is no obvious reason for trees to not be able to grow there I would just see how the planting goes rather than looking for a specialist consultant.
  • Thanks for the replies. Sorry the copse is elm and elder but only the elm are diseased. The elder just die randomly it seems!

    It was on the edge of a very unloved meadow and we have already removed the dead and almost dead elms.

    Its definitely dutch elm. The beetles that carry the disease fly at a set height which unfortunately is false in our garden due to the hillside. Yes the poorly trees send suckers out but all tree over 4inches in diameter are suffering.

    I have been told that disposal of diseased elm trees in the UK is not common. Also all we are surrounded by elms so if ours have the disease then its already in the others. 

    My question, I guess  is which native trees can be used to fill the gaps and are most likely to survive being under the canopy of the surviving elms?
  • Just from the similar area I have been planting an oak and a hornbeam are the trees that I planted that have done best. A cotoneaster and a whitethorn are still growing but have died back a bit from what looks like fire blight and needed to regrow with new shoots. I planted a willow as well but it got damaged accidentally so can't say that it did well but the existing willow trees there seem to be doing fine. Some self seeded ash are also growing well. As I said above if you look at what grows well in your area that would be the tree varieties that I would choose to plant as they should be some way adapted to the local environment. If the elders are not doing well maybe something else might do better. Most trees should have some ability to grow through a canopy of bigger trees but should be faster to grow and develop if you pick places with more light and as little direct competition as possible.
  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Posts: 83,995
    edited March 2020
    I grew up and have spent most of my life in Suffolk. I think ash would be great there ... they’re very happy growing in Suffolk soil (except for on the lighter soils you the east of the A12) ... and are typical of the Suffolk landscape ... many places in Suffolk have ‘Ash’ in their name (including the village where I grew up). 

    You could even coppice a few to make the traditional Suffolk building and fencing material of good strong and flexible poles ... or even some good ash handles for your garden tools 😉 

    Plant a few hazel between them for coppiced poles for your beans and you’ve got a traditional Suffolk copse. 

    A few native primroses around the edge ... heaven. 

    Gardening in Central Norfolk on improved gritty moraine over chalk ... free-draining.

  • That sounds great being able to utilise the timber! We have a lone ash which is doing well. Although we do have ash die back locally...

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