How to Grow and Care for Lacebark Elm Trees

Lacebark elm tree with bright yellow flowers in branches next to pathway

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

The lacebark elm (Ulmus parvifolia) is native to east Asia and is also commonly known as the Chinese elm. It is often confused with the Siberian elm (Ulmus pumila), but they are entirely different species and the Siberian elm is an inferior and invasive tree. While the lacebark elm has attractive fall color, its spring and summer color is not overly impressive, and its blooms are not stellar. What sets this tree apart, and where it gets its common name from, is the interesting exfoliating light and grey bark patterns it produces.

It is usually found casting some shade as a specimen tree or lining a street or drive as it can tolerate a good amount of urban pollution. Another traditional use for the Ulmus parvifolia is as a deciduous bonsai, but it is one best reserved for experienced bonsai enthusiasts only.

Although it is unique and adaptable, one flaw with the lacebark elm is the tendency for the species’ wood to break under high winds or ice load. However, this concern can be negated with early structural maintenance.

Common Name Lacebark Elm, Chinese Elm
Botanical Name Ulmus parvifolia
Family Ulmaceae
Plant Type Tree
Mature Size 40-50 ft. tall, 25-30ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full
Soil Type Well-drained
Soil pH  Neutral
Bloom Time Summer
Flower Color  Red, green
Hardiness Zone  4-9 (USDA)
Native Area  Asia

Lacebark Elm Care

Growing and caring for a lacebark elm in your landscape is an easy endeavor, especially if you are in an area that does not experience cold or harsh winters or high winds.

The only ongoing maintenance that the species requires is some structural pruning to avoid breakage due to weather. 

Lacebark elm tree branches with bright green and rib-edged leaves

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Lacebark elm tree with exfoliating bark patterns

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Lacebark elm tree branches with small bright yellow leaves

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Lacebark elm tree with bright green and yellow leaves next to pathway and bench

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova


Lacebark elms appreciate full sun. While they enjoy six hours of direct light daily, they can tolerate partial shade without any negative effects. Generally, however, the more sun the tree gets the better foliage color you can expect in the fall.


While lacebark elms are very adaptable when it comes to their soil, they will not tolerate wet saturated soil for long periods. They’re happiest in soil that is moist and well-drained. They are very adaptable in terms of soil pH.


When initially planted, the lacebark elm needs to be watered weekly to ensure the roots establish themselves. It is important to remember that less frequent, deeper watering is preferable to frequent, light irrigation.

Once the tree is established, there is no real need to continue with supplemental watering. The species has a good tolerance for droughts.

Temperature and Humidity

The lacebark elm is tolerant of a good range of temperatures that cover much of the United States. It thrives in USDA zones 5-9.

It does have issues withstanding ice buildup and high winds, which needs to be considered when placing the tree in a landscape and determining its usage.


On initial planting, boost root growth by adding compost, but further fertilization is not needed unless growth is slow or stunted.

When fertilizing a lacebark elm due to slow or stunted growth, perform a soil test to see what fertilizer formulation to apply. Use a nitrogen fertilizer that is slow release to prevent weak growth.


Perform proper preliminary maintenance to protect a lacebark elm during storms and winter months. When planting, stake the tree to encourage upright growth.

Train the tree with structural pruning to establish a single leader. Prune to eliminate any deep V-shaped intersections and inner-pointing interior branches. 

Maintaining this schedule annually for the first few years will keep the tree structurally sound for some time into the future.

Propagating Lacebark Elm

The lacebark elm is easy to transplant and can be propagated, particularly for use in bonsai. You will need sharp scissors that have been sterilized. Propagation can be done in the late spring and early summer. Here's how to propagate lacebark elm through cuttings:

  1. Select a branch from a healthy tree containing mature foliage.
  2. Taking your scissors, cut the branch off. Proceed to take cuttings 2-4" long and 1/8" thick below the leaf nodes.
  3. Remove the leaves from the bottom two-thirds of the cuttings.
  4. Place the cuttings in water and prepare pots with moist peat moss (you can mix in perlite or vermiculite). Using a pencil or your finger, make a hole in the center of the soil.
  5. Dip the cut ends in rooting hormone and place cuttings in pots. Firm the soil around the stems. Water regularly.
  6. Keep pots in a warm place for 8-10 weeks until the cuttings take root.


While this tree is hardy in the ground within its hardiness range, a potted specimen could die outdoors if temperatures reach freezing. Move indoors and place by a well-lit window or on a covered porch. You want to avoid allowing it to get too cold in the winter, though going dormant is normal.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

If you see leaves wilting and/or yellowing, particularly during the summer months, it could be a condition called elm yellows. While most lacebark elms are resistant to this disease, they can occasionally contract it. There is no way to control the disease and you will need to remove the tree and stump to prevent it spreading to other trees.

Common Problems With Lacebark Elm

Fortunately, lacebark elm is relatively easy to grow and doesn't experience many problems. Anything that comes up tends to be very minor. That said, here are a few things to look out for.


You may notice cankers forming on twigs and branches. Leaves can then turn yellow and fall. To treat, prune the infected branches below the canker and disinfect the tools afterward.

Rotting Bark

Overwatering can cause the bark to rot. Scale back on watering and make sure not to drown your plant. Soil should be well-drained and not overly moist.

  • How long does lacebark elm live?

    In proper conditions, lacebark elm can live 50 to 150 years.

  • Is lacebark elm easy to care for?

    Care is very easy. This robust tree can tolerate a variety of conditions.

  • Can lacebark elm grow indoors?

    Yes, lacebark elm can grow indoors provided it has ample light.

Article Sources
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  1. How to Grow a Chinese Elm from Cuttings. Bonsai Alchemist.