How to Grow Camperdown Elm Trees

A Camperdown Elm planted in 1875 near the historic Walker-Ames House in Port Gamble, Washington

Craig Moore / Getty Images

The camperdown elm makes a unique addition to any landscaping plan—its stately enough to capture attention but small enough to fit in small yards or limited areas. This umbrella-like tree has long, twisting limbs and a canopy of leaves that grows from the crown of the tree down towards the ground.

This tree variety was originally developed in Scotland. It’s commonly held that a gardener on the Camperdown estate discovered a diminutive elm growing with twisted limbs. A graft was made onto Ulmus glabra and the result was the ‘camperdownii’ cultivar—known today as the camperdown elm.

Today, this top-grafted landscaping tree is popular far beyond Scotland. Even in the United States, the “Scotch elm” as the camperdown elm is sometimes known is often planted as a memorial or in landscaped gardens and grounds. 

Botanical Name Ulmus glabra 'Camperdownii'
Common Name Camperdown elm
Plant Type Annual or perennial
Mature Size 20-25 feet tall and 20-30 feet wide
Sun Exposure Full to part sun
Soil Type Moist and sandy
Soil pH Alkaline
Bloom Time March and April
Flower Color Red
Hardiness Zones 4 to 7
Native Area Scotland
Foliage of camperdown elm tree
Budding foliage of camperdown elm. Alexander Bashkirov / Getty Images
Twisted limbs of camperdown elm tree in winter
Twisted limbs of camperdown elm tree in winter. GinnTinn / Getty Images

How to Grow Camperdown Elm

The fast-growing camperdown elm is a quick way to add a signature piece to your yard or landscaping, but it does require that you provide it with specific conditions for optimal growth. It’s important to choose a sunny location, with moist but somewhat sandy soil—nothing too rich or boggy. Water frequently and prune in the spring for abundant foliage during the spring and summer months.

This deciduous tree sheds its leaves for the winter season, but its intertwined canopy of branches helps this tree to stand out as unique even when bare.

Light

The camperdown elm does best in full sun. This promotes the most abundant foliage growth and contributes to a thick, luxuriant canopy. However, these trees can also tolerate spots that are part sun and part shade. 

Soil

This weeping elm will do best in moist and light soil that is well-draining; sandy soil works well for these trees. They prefer alkaline pH levels, though a suitable range is generally between 5 and 7.5 pH. 

Water

The camperdown elm benefits from a regular watering routine, but can withstand periods of drought. For optimal growth and health of this tree, be sure to water outside the drip line (the perimeter of the tree canopy), since the roots stretch away from the base of the tree but need the moisture.

These trees can withstand short bouts of flooding, but be sure not to over water. Take into consideration periods of heavy rain and check the soil for retained moisture before showering the tree.

Temperature and Humidity

This deciduous tree is versatile enough to withstand hot, humid weather and cold, chilly winters. It’s considered in hardy in USDA zones 4 through 7. As far as the American Horticultural Society’s heat zone map is concerned, it’s viable in zones 2 through 8.

The bottom line is that the camperdown elm can see temperatures that swing in both directions without affecting the long-term growth and viability of this tree.

Fertilizer

The beauty of a camperdown elm lies in its thick, full foliage of the canopy. In addition, the springtime produces red flowers that add to the charm of this weeping landscape tree. To support abundant growth and luxuriant foliage, it’s recommended that you use a general purpose fertilizer in the spring. Other than that, no special fertilizing routine is typically required. 

Propagating Camperdown Elm

Since this is a top-grafted cultivar, it’s impossible to grow the camperdown elm from seed. You’ll need to purchase these trees from nursery stock.

The camperdown elm is produced using cuttings from stock of the tree. These cuttings are top-grafted onto an elm trunk. Usually (but not necessarily) a wych elm trunk is used. 

Toxicity of Camperdown Elm

The camperdown elm is generally not considered to be toxic. However you should bear in mind that the fact that it can be grafted onto a variety of trunks may ultimately determine whether the leaves or bark of any particular specimen is toxic.

Pruning

You should prune these trees in the wintertime while the tree is dormant; typically from December to February is an ideal time. It’s important not to prune too late into the growing season to avoid stunting the tree’s growth, and maybe even more importantly, to avoid leaving the tree vulnerable to invasive insects through open cuts.

Campderdown elm trees are generally pruned for two primary reasons—to achieve a desired shape and to avoid disease.

These landscaping trees are easy to trim and shape, given their weeping nature and downward growth. But the other important reason to prune them is to remove any branches that show sign of disease. In addition, removing branches that are rubbing against each other will prevent wounds that insects or disease may capitalize on to infect the tree.

If removing diseased or rubbing branches removes more than 10 percent of the tree’s crown, you’ll have to postpone trimming for landscaping purposes. 

Common Diseases

Dutch elm disease is one of the biggest threats to the camperdown elm. However, it’s generally noted that this species is not as likely to suffer from the disease when cultivated in the United States versus in Europe.

However, it’s important to know the signs of the disease and keep vigilant to prevent an infestation, which can kill a tree within a matter of months. Dutch elm disease is a fungus that causes wilt and inhibits the flow of water within the tree. It is spread by elm beetles or it by the roots of an infected tree that has grafted to the roots of nearby elm trees.