Raising Your Sugarberry or Hackberry

About this Tree

               This tree is a native Common Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) or Sugarberry (Celtis laevigata). This Celtis group is in the same family as elms, but is resistant to Dutch Elm Disease (DED).  They have been planted widely because of their tolerance to severe urban conditions and compacted wet soils.

Dirr says this of common hackberry:   ‘The trunk and limbs have raised narrow corky ridges, sometimes reduced to warty projections.’  ‘Good tree for plains and prairie states because it performs admirably under adverse conditions; (it) has the innate ability to grow in dry soils and under windy conditions.  Have observed some beautiful hackberries that need to be vegetatively propagated.  In habit:  “the young tree is weakly pyramidal;  in old age the crown is a broad top of ascending arching branches, often with drooping branchlets, not unlike the American elm in outline, however, by no means as aesthetic.’ (Faint praise...)

Dirr say this of Sugarberry:  “Sugarberry bark is generally smooth and devoid of wart-like projections. The habit is rounded to broad rounded with spreading often pendulous branches.  The tree is used in the south on street, parks and large areas.; have seen a great number used as street trees in Savannah GA.  It is resistant to witch’s broom (a branch deformity caused by Eriophyid mite and by powdery mildew.)

Site Location

Many of our best urban and compact soil tolerant trees inhabit flood plain environments.  Sugar Hackberry occurs in low wet Areas such as floodplains, bottomlands and sloughs, generally in clay soils.”  (Adapted from Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, Dirr, Fifth edition.)  The Common Hackberry was chose as the representative large tree for analysis for environmental benefits in the Lower Midwest Community Tree Guide.  This area is a band which includes Cincinnati, Louisville, Lexington, Indianapolis, extending through St. Louis out to Wichita, Kansas.  In the Midwest analysis, Hackberry was shown to have the highest ecological and economic benefit, and grew to 50 ft in 20 year.

Observations in Audubon Park:

In looking for wider species diversity and “overlooked trees”, we became interested in planting more Sugarberry because of the outstanding Specimen tree at the edge of the drive at 3245 Crossbill.  That tree has excellent canopy presence.  Unfortunately it has been damaged over time with driveway work, and has developed decay at the butt, and is now in decline.

We also noted that Hackberry is one of the few native trees consistently volunteering in wooded edges, and does seem highly resilient in roadside habitats.  We looked at a number of middle aged trees at Goshen nursery to observe form and habit, and these trees seemed well developed with pruning to a central trunk. 

Both Sugarberry and Common Hackberry are hard to obtain in the nursery trade, even though named cultivars have been selected.

Our first Common Hackberry trees in 2009 came from Forrest Keeling.  They have had a mixed record, but are growing vigorously.  They were planted late in 2009, with severe exposure to cold and winter, and had deep tip dieback with loss of the central leader.  Recovering a crown by pruning has been arduous, and only partially successful, because we were timid in pruning at first. They have tended to sprout prolifically along the trunks with huge lower branches, and have been “limbed” up more vigorously than we would generally like to do.  The trunk removal cuts have healed well. We have now obtained four Sugarberries and hope to have better luck establishing and maintaining these with spring planting.  We also hope they will be more upright in overall growth pattern and require less training.