Hardy and fast growing, Siberian elm (Ulmus pumila) is sometimes marketed as a quick hedge. There are advantages and disadvantages to every plant, but gardeners should think twice before planting Siberian elm.
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The two principal advantages of Siberian elm are hardiness and rapid growth. The species is cold-hardy to USDA hardiness zone 4, although several cultivars are hardier than that. Growth rate is extremely fast, more than 18 inches per year. The tree eventually reaches a height of 50 to 70 feet.
Siberian elm has numerous disadvantages, including extreme susceptibility to insect, disease and herbicide damage. The wood is brittle, causing limbs to split from the tree during storms. The shallow roots lift and crack sidewalks and patios. Siberian elm suckers freely and is hard to eradicate from the landscape. The tree is considered an invasive pest in some parts of the country.
The University of Tennessee recommends planting Chinese or lacebark elm (U. parvifolia) in place of Siberian elm. Other fast-growing hedge trees to consider are Leyland cypress (x Cupressocyparis Leylandii) and Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana).