How to Recognize, Manage and Prevent Dutch Elm Disease on American and European Elm Trees

If your elm tree resembles this one, you can bet that it has Dutch elm disease and is dying.
If your elm tree resembles this one, you can bet that it has Dutch elm disease and is dying.

Recognizing Dutch Elm Disease

  • How far can elm bark beetles fly? Pretty far, and they are the cause of Dutch elm disease on American and European elm trees, so it brings to mind something Hilary Clinton once said: "It takes a village." While she wasn't talking about Dutch elm disease, I think you get the point. The whole community must be aware of these beetles and each person do what he/she can to keep them from breeding in dead and dying wood, and flying off to infect a neighbor's tree.
  • Actually, there are two forms of Dutch elm disease - acute and chronic. If you have the acute form, look for water-deprived leaves to wilt quickly - so quickly that the leaves can dry up and die while they are still green. With the acute form, an elm tree will usually die within two to three weeks.
  • In the chronic form, death is slower and more gradual, but if the trees are infected, they will, indeed gradually die. Chronic infection causes the trees to leaf out late in the season and the disease starts near the top of the tree. Some of the branches can have yellow-looking leaves with small holes in their bark. Leaves fall off heavily. Additionally, the infected branches and twigs can be ringed with brown dots that appear just below the bark; those dots are the clogged, water-conducting tubes. I suggest you contact a professional arborist if you have doubts about your own diagnosis of this disease. Please watch the videos below which are excellent tools in the war against Dutch elm disease.

Managing Dutch Elm Disease

  • There are things you should and shouldn't do in order to manage Dutch elm disease and the sooner you spot it, the better off you'll be. If you have elm trees, inspect them closely in both the spring and late summer. If you have infected trees, promptly get rid of them by destroying them, but not by using them as firewood or mulch, because the nasty critters that carry this disease breed in dead or dying wood and would love to set up housekeeping in your wood pile or your mulch.
  • I would advise that you strip off the bark on any remaining tree stumps all the way below ground level, and destroy it as well.
  • If you have one infected tree and other trees that you think may NOT be infected, unfortunately you are probably wrong and you may have to get rid of all of them.
  • Again, consult a professional.

Preventing Dutch Elm Disease

  • The only thing you, as an individual can do to prevent Dutch elm disease is to buy trees that are resistant and keep them as healthy as you possibly can by proper watering and fertilization.
  • This fungus (Ophiostoma ulmi) is spread by the feeding of the infected elm bark beetles and the fungus is then multiplied, spreading throughout the entire tree. A toxin is thereby produced that interferes with the tree's water-conducting system.
  • You can always check with your local cooperative extension agent to see if the community, as a whole can be better educated in an attempt to limit the spread of this disease.

It would be a shame for something this gorgeous to die.   This is what a healthy elm tree should look like.
It would be a shame for something this gorgeous to die. This is what a healthy elm tree should look like.

For your edification:

  • Dutch elm disease is not of Dutch origin. In approximately 1918, it was studied in Holland. The disease reached the United States on elm burl logs that were imported for furniture. It spread quickly and has threatened the existence of the native American elm tree.

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Comments 3 comments

cat on a soapbox profile image

cat on a soapbox 4 years ago from Los Angeles

you're welcome!


Casey White profile image

Casey White 4 years ago from United States Author

Sounds like you know your stuff! Thanks for the info on the Ace Cap injectable systemic pesticide, which I didn't know about.


cat on a soapbox profile image

cat on a soapbox 4 years ago from Los Angeles

Hi Casey,

Thanks for bringing this problem to light, so that people will learn to recognize it before it spreads. Dutch Elm Disease is terribly destructive. There is a way to troubleshoot the problem if caught early. The Elm Bark beetle which spreads the disease can be arrested by the application of the Ace Cap injectable systemic pesticide, orthene. Also proper water and fertlizer practices will keep trees strong. Insects typically attack weakened trees. Thank you for your good informative hub!

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