Some time within the past five years, I planted a Zelkova in my front yard. I...
Some time within the past five years, I planted a Zelkova in my front yard. I followed all of the planting instructions, and the tree looked great as recently as fall 2012. However, it did not seem to make it through the winter. It did not develop leaves, even though it appears to have formed buds on the branches. I have not seen any insects on the tree, but I did accidentally break a shelf fungus off of it when the weather was cooler, and that seemed to damage the bark. Also, because I did not want to shade my other gardens, I placed the tree very close to an oak tree that had died and we cut down to the ground. The Zelkova was supposed to "replace" the oak, but perhaps it was not a good idea to plant it in the same general area? I would like to get another Zelkova but would first like to understand what happened to this one and how I can prevent it from happening again. I have photos of the entire tree, the trunk, and a branch with buds, but it looks like I can only attach one, so here's a close-up of the trunk. It is greenish now.
It is impossible to know exactly what your Zelkova died from in the end, but it definitely has multiple problems. The most evident and damaging is the presence of the shelf fungus, which is a fungal wood rot. It was probably a heartwood rot since you did not see many other symptoms. Since heartwood is not involved in the translocation of nutrients, you wouldn't necessarily see evidence of it's progression. Here is a page from the Plant Diagnostic portion of our website: http://plantdiagnostics.umd.edu/level3.cfm?causeID=1219 on this.
We also notice that there doesn't seem to be a natural 'flare' at the base of the trunk. This could indicate either planting too deep, or a girdling/circling root, which disrupts nutrient flow, and a slow death.
Beware of using too much mulch (perhaps 2-3") and keep it away from the trunk of the tree. You can replant here, but know that Zelkova is not as long lived in general as an oak.