This post chronicles me and my comrades misadventures collecting a full size Chinese Elm.
I got a call from Nick saying a company was cutting down some 20-25 ft tall Chinese elms in front of his work. Seeing as I really needed a big elm I said, how many. He said at least 10.

Here is the pic he texted me.
First thing that went through my head was “Damn!”
All you out there with experience know that,when collecting a tree,the first rule is, don’t cut the top off. By leaving the top you have both the weight and the leverage it provides to help when getting to the tap root.
We didn’t have much of choice in this so off I went.
I called in my friend Dave and Nick was there and we had my 5 year old son Logan (in case we needed some sharp blades) and Dave’s kids Keven (13) and Krystal (4). Keven was our rocket scientist (if you apply force here you will get better leverage) and Krystal our drama queen ( but papa, I have dirt on my hands!)

This is Nick. Mean looking, ain’t he?

There’s Dave
We had invited Jerry but he had a hard day delivering mail that day.
I have collected elms before so I thought I knew what we were up against. I had no idea. I thought we would each get one and I’d get 4 or 5. We got one.
The basic technique is this: cut around the tree at the extent of the surface roots. You can use a hand saw, reciprocating saw, chainsaw, sharp shovel (if you’re smart) dull shovel (if you’re not) pruners etc. The idea is to expose it enough to get to the tap root to cut it and remove the tree.

Here we are at the start

This was after a lot of digging and cutting. Some of the roots we cut were bigger than my arms (I have pythons for arms!). We were about 80-90% through and it did not move an inch

That’s 250 lbs on the end of that lever.
Those black metal things are ramps made for loading a full size tractor type dealy onto a trailer. They weighed about 75 lbs each.

After more digging and cutting and digging and cutting and levering we started to make some progress

And finally “crack!”

And it still took us more effort to remove it.

Dave and…..



We had conquered it!
It weighed about 300lbs. I could not lift it alone

This is it at the house


And here I plated it (which means cut it flat on the bottom)




This is it in a box. I think I used 12 cubic feet of soil to fill it. The box is 3 feet square and 18 inches deep. My wife’s measurements are…..


It does looks glorious there in the sun doesn’t it?
We did collect it late in the year (I think the beginning of May) but we didn’t have a choice as to when.
The sad thing was, the next day the tractor ripped out the other trees in less than a minute each where it took us almost 3 hours. And the ground them into mulch.
Here is the first bud

And here it is now. Notice the callous forming at the top cut site.

I will admit that I’m not surprised by the recovery. A tree is only really alive on the outside edges. It matters little what happens to the middle, either on the trunk or in the root mass. If you can preserve the feeder roots and keep the cambium and bark whole you should have success.
But we did get lucky.
It was at this site that we also collected mad loads of ilex too (I speak the hip lingo man!)

If you get a chance, do some collecting. Just remember, do it at the right time of year and you’re success will be greater.

Krystal and Papa

3 thoughts

  1. Hey Adam, any update on how this elm is doing? Also, what part of the year did the collecting take place? I’m involved with some construction development projects and there are a few trees that may be perfect for collecting. One is a 18′ tall Redbud with a trunk about 10-12″ in diameter. Scheduled to get cut down in June or July.


    1. Hi Scott
      I haven’t done anything with the tree since then except trim it. Half the bark on the trunk died. Which means it’s a good carving candidate.
      Any deciduous tree should be collected before buds break in the spring. I wouldn’t give much hope for your tree in the summer unless it’s in a summer dormancy. But that’ll only happen if it’s been really hot.


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