What’s a Zelkova? California Tree Series

Japanese Zelkova (Zelkova serrata) Street Tree for CaliforniaWhat’s A Zelkova?

Zelkova, Japanese zelkova—Zelkova serrata

Japanese zelkova is a deciduous shade tree or street tree that grows well in many parts of California.

After Dutch elm disease wiped out most of the majestic American elms, landscape architects began searching for a disease-resistant alternative. Zelkova serrata is a good alternative to American elm and has many of the same desirable qualities.

Japanese Zelkova (Zelkova serrata) Street Tree for California

Japanese Zelkova is a deciduous tree. The narrow, oval leaves have a toothed margin reminiscent of true elms. Foliage is medium green in color. Autumn’s cooler weather brings colorful changes to the foliage. Leaves turn from green to yellow (most common), red, or brown in fall. The bark is smooth and medium-gray in color. In winter, the bare branches display an interesting branch pattern.

Japanese Zelkova (Zelkova serrata) detail of leaves

Use Japanese Zelkova as a shade tree or street tree. This species can also be effectively used in parks and larger landscapes as a medium-sized tree. Use in the same way that American elms were used generations ago. Some municipalities also encourage Japanese Zelkova to be used to replace the disease-prone American elm in new plantings in historic districts and older neighborhoods.

Japanese Zelkova (Zelkova serrata) Fall Color in the Landscape

Japanese Zelkova is a moderate water use plant and needs regular irrigation. Best growth occurs in full sun but trees also tolerate partial shade. Minimal pruning is required; correct weak branches as necessary for proper development and public safety. Few serious pest and diseases affect well-grown, healthy trees. Grows moderate to fast; 60 feet tall with an equal spread.

Japanese Zelkova (Zelkova serrata) Fall Color in the Landscape

Plant Japanese Zelkova in Sunset climates zones 3-21, 29-41.

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About

John is a landscape architect who is currently preparing to take the California Supplemental Exam to become licensed in California. He is currently a licensed professional landscape architect in Georgia and Florida. John graduated from California State University, Pomona with a BSLA degree in landscape architecture in 1997 and has extensive practice experience in residential and commercial landscape design.

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