Hackberry Tree Guide: How to Grow & Care for “Celtis Occidentalis”

Our Guide to Hackberry Trees for everything you will ever need to know! Tips for planting & caring for “Celtis Occidentalis”

Have you already fallen in love with the superb Hackberry trees? We did too! Whether it is their showy foliage or general hardiness, most trees have their own way to win our hearts in less than a moment. Keep reading to find out how to grow, care for, and even propagate your Hackberry tree.

Celtis occidentalis, otherwise known in cultivation as the common Hackberry, is a species of trees in the Cannabaceae family. This tree is deciduous, shedding its leaves seasonally and also its petals right after blooming. It is native to several regions of North America that range from southern Ontario to Quebec, South Dakota, North Carolina, and Oklahoma.

Hackberries are popular ornamental trees not only for their alluring presence but also due to their low-maintenance features. They can bring a dash of personality to almost any landscape decorations including streets, woodland gardens, or drought-tolerant gardens.

The most common varieties of Hackberry trees are Green Cascade (a weeping variety), Magnifica (hybrid between Sugarberry and Hackberry trees), Praire Pride (strong and disease-free variety), and Praire Sentinel (a variety with a more narrow trunk).

About Hackberry

  • The wood produced from Hackberry bark is heavy, soft, light yellow, but not so strong. Although it usually rots pretty easily, some people use this wood for fencing and making cheap furniture.
  • Hackberry fruits ripen in early September and are edible. They are fairly high in calories from proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. People can digest these calories without any extra preparation or cooking.
  • In traditional culture, Native Americans used to consume their pea-sized berries very often. They pounded the fruits finely and used them in a mixture of fat with parched corn or as a common flavour for meat dishes.
  • Numerous folks used parts of Hackberry trees as a treatment for several health problems, such as jaundice, sore throats, and venereal diseases.
  • These trees play a big part in the overall well-being of the ecosystem, being a great host for the butterfly larvae of hackberry emperors. However, various fungi and insects can cause the decay of their roots or dead branches very fast.
  • Their leaves serve as a food source for several gall-producing insects, but without causing any serious damage to the Hackberries. Some species of mammals and birds, such as cedar waxwings, flickers, cardinals, or robins, enjoy eating their attractive fruits.
  • Hackberry trees make for excellent companion plants to other interesting species of plants including American Holly, Eastern Redbud, Shagbark Hickory, and Summersweet.
Hackberry Tree
Hackberry Tree

Hackberry Features: An Overview

  • Hackberries belong to the Celtis genus that contains from 60 to 70 species of deciduous trees. They grow in warm temperate regions and a wide range of habitats including bottomlands and those with limestone-high soils.
  • In general, they are medium-sized trees that can reach between 30 and 50 feet (9-15 m) in height. In optimal environmental conditions, these trees can grow as tall as 130 feet (40 m).
  • Hackberries have slender trunks covered with a light brown to silvery-grey bark. Their spectacular and distinctive-patterned bark is usually broken on the surface into thick scales but sometimes can appear somewhat roughened with excrescences.
  • The branchlets of these trees are long and come in many tints that change from light greenish to reddish-brown, then darker red-brown. Their winter buds are ovate, acute, 0.25 inches (0.63 cm) long, somehow flattened, and light brownish.
  • Hackberries put on display showy foliage. They contain numerous ovate to ovate-lanceolate, oblique at the base, tip-pointed, and green leaves that grow alternately arranged on the branchlets.
  • Their leaves have serrated margins and measure from 2 to 4.7 inches (5-12 cm) in length and 1.2 to 3.5 inches (3-9 cm) in width. In autumn, the three-nerved leaflets turn a pleasant light yellow.
  • These trees bloom from mid to late spring (April-May), soon after their leaves show up. They produce three kinds of flowers known as perfect (both male and female), staminate (male), or pistillate (female).
  • Their blossoms are light yellow to greenish with five-lobed sepals and two-lobed pistils. They appear individually or in small clusters and exhibit no corolla (petals).
  • Hackberries bear tiny, fleshy, and oblong fruits called drupes. They become dark purple when ripe and typically remain on the branches during the winter months.

Growing Hackberry

Like most species of trees, Hackberries grow at their best under full sunlight exposure. Make sure you are planting these trees in a location where they can receive at least six hours of bright and direct light. If you cannot provide them with these lighting conditions, however, no worries! They are pretty reasonable and will also do well in areas with partial shade.

When it comes to temperatures and humidity, Hackberries are highly versatile. These trees can withstand a wide range of environmental conditions, no matter what region you live in. They are frost-hardy and harsh winter months will not affect these beauties at all. Moreover, they can tolerate even the hottest and driest climates out there.

The only pests that can bother your Hackberries are those that feed on their foliage, such as lace bugs. These intruders prefer to feed on the underside of their leaves, especially the parts that are very rich in sap. If you notice numerous leaves that turn brown and fall over, it may be a sign that your beloved trees are dealing with lace bugs. In this case, wash the pests off your infested Hackberries using a strong stream of water and apply insecticidal soaps regularly.

Planting Hackberry

Due to their easy-going style and overall hardiness, Hackberries can tolerate almost any type of soil. From acidic to alkaline and loamy, sandy, or clay, your trees will show no dissatisfaction with their growing medium. However, they usually prefer slightly moist but well-draining substrates that are rich in nutrients and organic matter.

In general, Hackberries grow at a pretty fast pace and do not require any extra applications of fertilizer. Yet, if you are growing your trees in poor soil, they will benefit from annual fertilizing to provide them with more nutrients. You can use any kind of fertilizer, whether it is liquid, granular, or stakes. Make sure you are feeding them in spring, following the package instructions accordingly.

Because Hackberry trees tend to grow and spread like crazy, they will demand occasional pruning to keep them in shape. These plants go dormant during the winter months, so late winter will be an excellent time to prune them. In this process, you must remove any diseased, damaged, or dead branches to give your trees that fresh look. You can also cut some off those branches that are extra crowded, grow vertically, or rub against each other. Keep in mind that pruning is an option only for established specimens.

Hackberry 10 Seeds, From Amazon

Watering Hackberry

Many gardeners appreciate Hackberries for their ability to tolerate both flooding and drought conditions. Thanks to this, they are perfect start-ups for any gardener out there, especially for the forgetful ones or beginners. However, they will need a little extra attention until they settle in their new environment.

During the first season after planting, it is best to water your Hackberries once every week. When their roots have become established, these trees will thrive with little care in general. They will demand a nice and deep soaking only when the weather is particularly hot and dry. Also, if you live in a region with regular or frequent rainfalls, you can forget about watering them for good!

Propagating Hackberry

Hackberry trees don’t just look absolutely fabulous, but they are also great shade providers. Believe us, your garden will be a much cooler place in the summer if you have plant several Hackberry trees. When they are younger and smaller, these trees can also make for excellent potted plants indoors. And if you know that your beloved family members or friends miss a spectacular tree in their garden collection, these might be the ideal candidates!

Having so many reasons to multiply Hackberries, how could you resist the temptation of trying it yourself? Luckily, you can propagate these trees through seeds very fast and much easier than you might expect.

Celtis occidentalis
Celtis occidentalis

First things first, make sure you collect the Hackberry seeds in autumn as soon as the fruits are ripe. Once you have the seeds, plant them in a bed or large container filled with a fresh seed-starting mix. In areas with warm or no winters, you can also sow them in regular soil directly in the garden without any future problems.

The seeds will germinate quickly if you keep them in a warm location and maintain their soil constantly damp. When the seedlings seem to show some resistance, they have developed a healthy root system. After this period, you can transplant them in their permanent growing spot or their individual pots and care for them as usual.

In Conclusion

Nothing can be more satisfying than planting a tiny tree and watching it transform into a stunning and tremendous one that gives your garden plenty of shade! What makes Hackberry trees so special is their very easy-to-grow habit, no matter what region you live in. With minimal care, these independent and beginner-friendly trees can be your loyal and friendly companions for a very long time.

Are you growing Hackberry trees? Share your experience in the comments below!

Miruna is an experienced content writer with a passion for gardening. She is the proud owner of an outdoor rose garden and an indoor collection of tiny succulents. She bought her first succulent 10 years ago - an adorable Echeveria Setosa. Now she owns more than 100 succulents and cacti of different colors, shapes, and sizes. Miruna is a versatile writer and, as you might have guessed, her favorite topic is gardening. Contact


  1. I have just last October 2020 planted a three-yr-old, 1.25″ caliper Hackberry that I raised from a seedling. It survived its first winter in the street verge on its own and has come back robustly, already standing
    nearly 8ft tall. I am very pleased so far. Its main threats are children and commercial lawnmowers and maybe the occasional work crew unloading ladders and such.

  2. I have what I believe is a hackberry tree in the backyard. of all the trees in my yard it is probably the last to blossom out with leaves. Had a dry year last year, two weeks of really cold weather in February and two days of freeze warnings about the time the buds would have been out. Right now it looks like a dead tree because the buds are just taking their blessed time to open up. Is there anything I can do to help this tree and the buds? I’m tired of answering neighbors questions about whether it’s a dead or not.

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