Princeton Elm TreeUlmus americana ‘Princeton’
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Ulmus americana ‘Princeton’
Outdoor Growing zone
The Princeton Elm Tree is a disease-resistant form of the famous American Elm, that used to grace so many towns and cities with cathedral-like avenues of street trees. Although they are gone, the victims of Dutch Elm Disease, you can still grow a beautiful elm tree or avenue in your own garden, with the Princeton Elm Tree. Originally selected for its beautiful foliage, symmetrical arching crown, and overall quality, this tree is today right in the top group of varieties most likely to continue to resist disease, and become outstanding specimens, living for many, many years in good health.
The Princeton Elm Tree is incredibly hardy, handling both the extreme cold of zone 3 and the heat and dryness of zone 9, and everything in between. It will grow in almost all soils, from wet to dry, acidic to alkaline, and sand to clay. It tolerates harsh urban conditions too, and it grows as much as 5 feet a year when young. Although disease is always a risk, for every variety of American elm that is available, this variety has shown a better than 90% survival rate in trials, so it has an excellent chance of surviving for you.
If there is one tree firmly embedded in the hearts of Americans, even those too young to really remember, it is the American elm tree. Once lining the streets of every town, this tree brought a sense of place that no other tree can ever do. It was a tragedy when Dutch Elm Disease marched across the country in the middle of the last century, decimating town streets and killing millions of trees. This majestic tree, with its distinctive tall, arching crown, turned ordinary streets into cathedrals, and it is sorely missed. The good news is that disease-resistant varieties exist, and you can today plant elm trees with a good likelihood that they will mature into grand specimens, and still be here in the next century. There are several varieties on offer, but the best is the Princeton Elm Tree.
The Princeton Elm Tree was not developed for its disease resistance – that was a stroke of luck – but instead for its beauty, so this is a superior tree in the old style, with a sturdy central trunk and branches that spread out at 45 degrees, arching over as they mature, making a beautiful and symmetrical vase-shaped crown that gives you exactly the classic beauty of the American elm. The leaves are 3 to 6 inches long, and 1 to 3 inches wide, with crisp veins and a double-toothed margin. The leaves of this variety are particularly handsome and deep green, with a lustrous upper surface, and they turn bright yellow in fall. The dark gray bark is deeply ridged and furrowed in mature trees, and you won’t be waiting long to see maturity, since this tree grows as much as 5 feet each year, when young.
Plant the Princeton Elm Tree on a large lawn as a majestic shade tree. Plant an avenue along a driveway – allow at least 20 feet between each tree, for the best effect. Use a row to mark your property boundaries or get together with neighbors or your local community to create a classic American street along your very own street.
The Princeton Elm Tree will grow best planted in full sun, and grow most vigorously in deep, moist, well-drained soil. But there is no doubt this is a tough tree, which is why it was once so widely planted. It will grow in almost any soil, both acid and alkaline, clay or sand, and from wet to dry, adapting well even to the poorest soils. Once established it has good drought resistance, and this tough and hardy tree grows well in both hot and cold parts of the country.
It is worth taking some care during the development of your tree, to give it the best and most durable form. Keep the main trunk free of small branches, pruning up gradually, as the trunk thickens, until you reach the height you want for it. Then watch for overcrowding in the crown, especially branches making very narrow crotches (the space between a pair of branches), with a narrow angle between them. Prune, and select branches to keep the crotches wide, as this prevents breakage from snow and ice.
We are not going to claim this tree is ‘disease proof’ – and don’t listen to anyone else who falsely makes such a claim about any American elm tree. No tree, especially an elm, can be guaranteed to live for ever without disease. But we will say that the Princeton Elm Tree is certainly very resistant to Dutch Elm Disease, and it has stood up for many years much better than just about any other variety that exists today. In scientific trials the rate of infection has been less than 10%, and some of the trees that were infected were saved by good pruning. With a better than a 90% chance, this tree is a very good bet for a long and healthy life. Besides Dutch Elm Disease, no other pests or diseases are likely to be major problems, and you can rest comfortably with the Princeton Elm in your garden.
You might think that this tree has some connection with the University of the same name, but actually it was developed in 1922 by Princeton Nurseries, a large commercial nursery of the time, in Kingston, New Jersey. The nursery was founded in 1913 by William Flemer Jr. and he selected this tree for its beauty, and then called it ‘Princeton’ after his nursery. It was a seedling selection of the American Elm, Ulmus americana. That tree grows all through the east, across Canada from Nova Scotia to Alberta, and down into Montana, south to Florida and across into most of Texas. Even wild trees grow everywhere from swamps and riverbanks up onto well-drained hillsides, showing how adaptable this tree is. In forests it is tall and relatively narrow, and it is only when planted in the open that it develops that much-loved arching crown of many ascending branches.
After Dutch Elm Disease killed so many trees, it was noticed that some had survived, and showed resistance to the disease. The ‘Princeton’ variety was seen to, by chance, have survived very well, which is why today it is recognized as one of the very best of an elite group of disease-resistant elms, recommended by expert arborists for planting. If you are doing further research on this tree, you should be aware that it has not performed so well in the British Isles, for various reasons, so information from UK websites can be misleading for American conditions. We have a good supply of top-quality plants, but they will sell out quickly, so order now.