May 1, 2005
Japanese Zelkova
Fourteen were planted at Borough Hall in Metuchen, NJ. Let's watch them grow!


Detailed Facts
Zelkova Neighbors
Julie's Trees

Facts at a Glance
Zelkova serrata

Planted July 2004
14 trees planted
Planting height: 15'
Planting trunk: 2"

2008 Update 
1 tree died
Replacement planted
in 2009

2010 Update
(avg 13 original trees)
6-yr height: 19' 
6-yr trunk: 15" 

Mature Height: 55 to 80'
Spread: 50 to 75'
Growth rate: Moderate
Form: Vase
Flowers: Inconspicuous
Fall color: Yellow to red
Hardiness zone: 5 - 8
Culture: Sun

Best feature: 
Good for street planting

Worst problem:
Branches need structural pruning

Do over? Yes

Zelkova in the Street Light

Guarded Progress at Metuchen Borough Hall

'Fred' Can't Scare Me!


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A Tree Grower's Diary
Japanese Zelkova


Photographs and text by Julie Walton Shaver

Oblong leaves with serrated edges

Key identifying features.. Vase shape, often mistaken for an American Elm.

Common name.. Japanese zelkova

Scientific name.. Zelkova serrata

Mature height.. 55 to 80 feet

Mature spread.. 50 to 75 feet

Form.. Vase, symmetrical canopy

Fruit.. Oval with a dry, hard covering, less than a half-inch in length; does not attract birds or squirrels and poses no significant litter problem.

Flowers.. Spring flowers are inconspicuous.

Foliage.. Deciduous; leaves emerge light green in spring, darkening somewhat through summer, turning bright yellow, orange, burgundy or copper in fall. Leaves are simple, alternate, oblong and are less than 2 inches in length.

Fall color of zelkovas in a row, Lake Avenue, Metuchen

Growth rate.. Moderate. See the growth chart for pictures.

Hardiness zones.. 5 through 8

Culture.. Full sun; tolerates drought.

Best time to prune.. Late fall through late winter, but pruning can be done anytime to maintain strong branch structure. Branches should remain less than half the diameter of the trunk for a strong, durable tree.

Of special note.. Zelkova trees make good street trees for many reasons: the vase shape keeps the tree from drooping into the way of cars and pedestrians; it is drought and salt tolerant; if planted 30-feet apart, the crowns of mature trees will create a beautiful shady street or sidewalk; there is not a significant surface root problem, so these trees do not often lift sidewalks; it is relatively pest-free; and, it grows well in restricted sidewalk pits.

One year after planting

Julie's Comments.. (May 2006) Zelkova trees are from the elm family, and they do look similar, though zelkovas don't have problems with the dreaded Dutch Elm Disease. I decided to follow the entire group planted here at Metuchen's new Borough Hall to document how well they do here. In the process, I've discovered many other zelkova trees in town. I had never heard of this tree before they were planted here. I remember the day I first noticed them up at the new municipal building: I immediately took close up leaf pictures, bark pictures, full tree pictures to document the shape, then ran home and began to research what kind of tree it was. I was so proud of myself that I had an answer within a few hours! The next day, the local newspaper came out with a story about the trees quoting the landscaper who had planted them, confirming my tree identification. I HAVE learned a thing or two about trees since I started this diary in 1996!

All 14 trees survived their first winter!

Planting date.. July 2004. Fourteen trees planted at Metuchen's Borough Hall. As of May 2006, all fourteen were still alive and thriving. At planting time the trees averaged about 15 feet tall and had roughly 2-inch diameter trunks. I'll be measuring in the summer for a size update, so be sure to bookmark the page if you want to keep track of these trees with me! (You can also subscribe to my blog, because when I update a tree's size, I'll post it to there. I am amazed at how many subscribers the blog has now. I never knew so many people were as interested in trees as I am!)

DO OVER?.. Yes.


See Julie's Borough Hall Zelkova Journal
See the Borough Hall Zelkova growth chart
Read the latest Tree Grower's Diary blog entry

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