I have a love/hate relationship with Chinese elms.

I fight them at my home in Malta where they litter the yard with seedpods and grow like weeds. At the cabin on Fort Peck Lake, however, three large ones provide shade and privacy, and are often filled with songbirds.

But it doesn’t really matter how I feel about them, the trees appear to be dying.

They didn’t put out any seed this spring and leafed out in an odd manner. Instead of sprouting leaves at the ends of the branches, the leaves came out in thick balls along the trunk and major limbs, looking more like mistletoe than elm leaves.

It’s hard to imagine they’ll survive another year.

That’s fine at home in Malta where they sprout in the lilacs, and grow through the chain-link fence surrounding the yard. Unfortunately, it’s the mature trees, not the saplings that appear to be suffering.

At the lake, there are only mature elms in the yard with the exception of one younger tree I planned to cut down last week until I noticed robins flying in and out of the upper branches. Now I have to wait for them to raise their young before I cut down the offending elm.

When the trees shading the patio didn’t leaf out this spring I suspected sabotage. A neighbor had been pleading with me for a couple of years to cut down the trees, which he said partially blocked his view of the lake.

It was only my suspicious nature, though. I soon realized all of the elms, not just mine, were suffering.

At first I suspected the problem was weather related. Last winter was relatively mild until February when the snow and frigid temperatures came on with a vengeance. I heard talk that the elms had frozen when they were starting to bud and that had led to the problem. But the cottonwoods, green ash and poplars wintered just fine.

Dutch elm disease changed much of the landscape in cities across the country during an outbreak last century and I suspect it’s another disease afflicting the Chinese elms.

However, that’s just my guess and I hope I’m wrong. I’d love to see the elms – at least those at the lake — survive for selfish reasons. Those in Malta, not so much.

But it’s not like I have a choice.

I just hope the Chinese pheasants aren’t next.

Parker Heinlein is at pman@mtintouch.net