Elm Tree Diseases: Warning Signs of a Sick Tree

A close up photo of healthy green elm tree leaves

The elm tree has gone through numerous devastating bouts of disease in England, making them a precious sight in our countryside, in the instances where they have survived or regrown.

The most notable elm tree disease is that of Dutch elm disease (so named for where it was researched, not where it originated from), which wiped out millions of British elm trees in the 20’s and again in the 70’s. This is not the only threat to our elm trees though, which is why it is so important to be able to identify warning signs of a sick elm tree.

Elm Leaf Scorch

Leaf scorch on an elm is not curable, but with the right prevention, the tree can survive and even thrive for many more years, so it’s imperative to catch it early and speak to experts about keeping your tree alive.

Elm leaf scorch is a bacterial tree disease, which actually clogs the veins within the leaves, stopping water from travelling and therefore causing the tell-tale wilt. The first warning signs of the elm leaf scorch disease are the leaf edges turning brown, before the browning then moves toward the middle of the veins, usually creating a distinct wavy line between the ‘live’ and ‘dead’ part of the leaf. Through the summer, symptoms worsen and leaves often fall early.

Dutch Elm Disease

The most infamous of the elm tree diseases, Dutch elm disease is responsible for the loss of an estimated 60 million elm trees in Britain. The disease is a fungus which is carried by bark beetles flying from one elm to the next, infecting each one and causing sick trees throughout the country.

You can spot the early warning signs of Dutch elm disease in summer, but it is a progressive elm tree disease so you may only see one warning sign, all of them, or a mixture on different parts of the tree. Warning signs to look out for are the tree having leaves turn yellow and wilt, before turning brown and dropping from the tree. You also might see “shepherds’ crooks” on your elm tree, which is when the twigs bend downwards. You might also see shoots dying back. Any of these warning signs of Dutch elm disease could be alongside healthy looking foliage and branches.

To confirm Dutch elm disease, peel off some of the elm tree’s bark. You may see brownish streaks on affected branches, or a dark brown ring when the twig is cut across. Not all branches will show this, but some should if the tree is sick with Dutch elm disease.

As it cannot be treated, it is imperative that once you have identified the signs, a professional is contacted so that the tree can be safely dealt with.


If you see any of the above warning signs of an elm tree disease or see something else concerning, don’t hesitate to give expert trees surgeons a call. Treesaw operates in Leeds and Harrogate, providing tree surgery and advice to many in the area. Call us today on 0113 239 1271.