The American elm tree has long been a symbol of small-town America, standing tall along Main Streets across the country. Since the 1930s, however, this great tree has been stricken with the deadly Dutch elm disease and all but eliminated. Fortunately, scientists have been able to develop varieties of the elm that resist the disease, including the 'Princeton' American elm.
On Arbor Day, the national holiday each April dedicated to the planting of trees, the staff of Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park, in Oyster Bay, New York, plant 20 to 30 trees, many of them 'Princeton' American elms, in an effort to replenish what was once a great presence on this extraordinary estate.
When choosing a young elm to plant, certain qualities -- a straight, unblemished trunk, a good-size root ball, and a visible trunk flare (the fat part at the base of the trunk) -- indicate a healthy tree that will grow tall and strong.
1. Dig a hole at least twice the size of the root ball.
2. Plant the tree slightly above ground level so that if the ground settles, the tree will not be too deep, which can cause long-term problems.
3. Being careful not to break the root ball, gently remove the burlap, string, and wire basket surrounding it. If you can't get to all of the burlap, pull as much of it from the planting hole as possible.
4. Using a mixture of half compost and half soil, fill the planting hole, and tamp down by walking on the soil mixture. Be careful to cover the root ball, but do not build up soil around the trunk of the tree.
5. Cover the planting area with 1 to 2 inches of mulch, such as composted wood chips.
6. Water thoroughly, soaking the ground around the tree. Be sure to give a new tree plenty of water during the first couple of seasons after planting.