Hackberry Tree: Growing Tips, How To Identify Hackberry Trees, Planting Tips

Woman wonders about a hackberry tree (celtis occidentalis) and how to grow hackberry trees, how to identify hackberry bark, fruit, flowers, while planting hackberry.

One thing about the Hackberry tree is the fact that it is one of the most resilient species to grow and even experts attest to it.

If you are looking for a landscaping tree that will survive no matter what comes its way, the Hackberry tree should be at the top of your list.

It can live in a variety of conditions and won’t be too tasking to look after either, a win-win for many homeowners. As long as you have the space to accommodate its massive root system, consider planting this tough tree.

There’s so much more to it than its hardiness, it stands majestically tall at over 50 feet high; anyone would want this giant adorning their yard. But there’s just one thing, how do you go about planting it?

This guide outlines everything you need to know about this excellent landscaping tree, perfect for growing in a variety of climates and delivering flourishing results for your labor.

How To Identify Hackberry Tree

It doesn’t take much effort to identify a hackberry tree and tell it apart from the rest. Although many confuse it for an elm tree, there are certain features that easily give it away.

Hackberry Tree Bark

The bark is definitely the tree’s most outstanding characteristic, with a diameter of about 18-24 inches.

You can spot hackberry from a distance, all thanks to the signature bumps or wart-like ridges that form when the tree matures.

Graphic with images that shows how to identify hackberry tree through bark, leaves, fruit, flower, and seeds.

(Hackberry Flower Image: Sten Porse17, Hackberry Fruit Image: Teresa Grau Ros16 and Hackberry Leaves Image: Chhe15)

The outer layer takes a somewhat light look, either brown or gray depending on the particular tree.

Hackberry Tree Leaves

The tree’s leaves are simple, alternately arranged on the stems, but what makes them stand out even more is how they are lanceolate in shape, with serrations at the edges, while the top part seems to have a rough texture.14

They take a light green color at the top, while the underside is more of a pale green.

Given that the hackberry is deciduous, you can expect the green color to later on turn yellow come fall.

Hackberry Tree Flower

Hackberry is not exactly known for its flowers. Other parts take centerstage while the bloom stays insignificantly small and dull-looking.

They are usually yellowish-green with 4-5 petals, and the male and female flowers grow on one tree, the males being fuzzier and clustered up as the females show up singly.16

Hackberry Tree Seeds

Birds and mammals are in charge of dispersing the hackberry tree’s fruits, which appear singly in each fruit or berry. They take a generally rounded shape and are brown in color, looking like tiny coconuts.

Hackberry Tree Fruit

Tree pollination leads to the formation of the hackberry fruits, otherwise more commonly known as the berries or drupes.15 You can spot them by their rounded shapes and red color that turns to a dark purple when maturing.

Animals love how sweet they taste, and it is great that they stay on the tree well into winter.

Hackberry Tree, Common Hackberry

(Celtis occidentalis)

Photo of Hackberry Tree in an oval frame on green background.
  • Family: Cannabaceae
  • Genus: Celtis
  • Leaf: Green, lanceolate or ovate, rough, measuring 3-6 inches, with serrated margins
  • Bark: Light-colored, brown or gray, with ridges, but smooth when young
  • Seed: Rounded, brown in color, singular in a fruit
  • Blossoms: Insignificant, but in yellow, golden, orange, or purple shades, with 4-5 sepals
  • Fruit: Orange, red, burgundy, or purple berries, measuring less than an inch
  • Native habitat: Eastern parts of North America
  • Height: 60-80 feet
  • Canopy: 40- 50 feet
  • Type: Deciduous
  • Native growing zone: USDA zones 3-9

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Ranking

Least Concern


Image Credit: psdgangcreatives14

What Is the Common Hackberry (Celtis Occidentalis)?

What best describes the hackberry? Experts call it resilient and tough, and for homeowners, this tree is a majestic tower that fits perfectly into their landscape.

It reaches way past the 50-foot-mark, and you can’t help but marvel at its vase-like crown, deep foliage, and fruits that are a wildlife favorite. You can grow it practically anywhere, regardless of the conditions or temperatures, including heavy rainfall and strong winds.

The best part is that it works as an ornamental shade tree, provided that you have enough space in your home for its massive root system. You can easily identify it by its red berries that turn a vibrant purple shade as the tree gets older.

So many bird species can’t get enough of this tree, and it’s not long before you have flocks of robins and cardinals in your yard. The bark surface is also distinctive, with its rugged texture and light colors.

If you love bright tree colors in the fall, you will appreciate that the leaves of this deciduous tree turn from green to bright yellow before falling off to signal the winter. It is interesting how even though the tree is native to the eastern parts of North America, it can still survive almost anywhere in the US.

You may liken it to the elm tree, but that is because they are part of the elm family, although from a different genus, called the Celtis occidentalis.4,6

Facts About Berry Trees (Hackberry Tree)

Want to know more about this stunning tree making waves all around? Here are some fun hackberry tree facts.

Hackberry Wood

Are you wondering what makes the hackberry tree valuable? It’s the high-quality timber it provides.

Lumbers absolutely love the fact that the wood has dark lines running through it that make it so unique. Its quality is unmatched and that explains why you will find it being used in high-end woodwork projects.

Hackberry Tree Growth Rate

You must ask, how long does it take for a tree to grow if you want to have it as a shade or privacy tree? The same applies to the hackberry because it is mostly planted for the above features, so is it worth it?

Or, how long it takes to grow a hackberry tree? When the conditions are optimal, and your tree is growing perfectly healthy and happy, you can expect it to grow at least 2 feet high each year.

This is commendable considering other trees grow way slower than this, so that makes it a top choice for shade and privacy trees.

Hackberry Tree Growing Zone

The hackberry is famous for growing in various conditions. It is able to tolerate a wide range of temperatures and climates, which explains why it can survive in USDA zones 3, all the way to 9.

Therefore, you can grow it almost anywhere in the US, so planting it should not be a problem. The original habitat of the hackberry is in the massive region between North Carolina and Oklahoma East.

Types of Hackberry Trees

Closely following the hackberry trees, you realize that there are many types of trees that you can plant.

Photo of a mature Hackberry Tree.

(Image: Joanbanjo11)

Here are the most common options to go for.

Green Cascade

Are you a fan of the weeping willow tree? Then you will love to grow this rare variety of hackberry that tends to take the same shape and form, an incredible ornamental tree.


It is easy to confuse the hackberry with the sugarberry tree, so what about planting a tree that is a cross between the two of them, with all their best features?

Prairie Pride

The outstanding feature of this tree is the fact that it is able to survive the harshest conditions and can fight deadly hackberry diseases.

Prairie Sentinel

Even though the hackberry is famous for its huge size and massive trunk, this type is a little different, with a slim trunk.

Hackberry Tree Pros and Cons

Are you getting more and more interested in the hackberry tree?

Graphic with texts and images that shows the hackberry tree pros and cons.

Then take a look at its pros and cons.


  1. The tree is one of the fastest growing in the entire country, at at least 2 feet annually, so that makes it ideal if you are going for shade trees.
  2. Hackberry is easily adaptable to various conditions and is one of the most drought-tolerant trees.
  3. As a massive, tall tree with a wide canopy, the hackberry is famous for its ornamental properties, adding life and color to your home.7
  4. Not only does the hackberry attract pollinators to it, but plenty of bird and mammal species call it home.
  5. The tree’s bark has a unique look, and in addition, its wood is tough and high quality.


  1. You have to be extra careful during the hackberry’s first decade of life because it is infamous for growing weak, due to its breakable limbs, unless properly pruned.1
  2. Serious threats to the tree’s life and, of course, its looks, are deadly diseases. So, you have to keep a close eye out for fungal and viral infections.

Growing a Hackberry Tree From a Seed, Cutting, or Seedling

Good news: growing a Hackberry is not as daunting as you may think. It is simple and straightforward, and there are a couple of methods to choose from.

Growing a Hackberry Tree From a Seed

You will first pick the seeds later on in summer as soon as the fruits turn a purple shade. Remove the fruit pulp, then clean out the seeds, dry them, and store them in the fridge for about 90 days for stratification.

When spring comes, you can go right ahead with the planting. You will start by soaking the hackberry seeds overnight and planting them in a container filled with potting soil, at least ¼ or ⅜ inches deep.8

Pat the top, water the soil, and place the pot in a warm, dry spot, monitoring now and then while caring for the seedlings.

Growing a Hackberry Tree From a Seedling

Apart from the seeds, there is a different, and fortunately simpler way to grow the hackberry tree. This entails using seedlings or saplings from tree nurseries.

Just dig a hole that measures twice as wide as the root ball and the same size in depth, stick the seedling into the hole and backfill with soil, tapping down using your feet to secure its place, then water and care for it as usual, and watch how fast it grows.3

Growing a Hackberry Tree From a Cutting

One unconventional method to grow a hackberry that still works is to use cuttings. This is ideal when you want the fastest and surest propagation method without the stress that comes with waiting for germination.

All you have to do is select a healthy and strong tree that you will use to pick your stem cutting, then dip the end in a rooting hormone before planting it in a potting mix. Water and care for it like you would a seedling and wait for the roots to form.

Best Growing Conditions for Hackberry Tree

Hackberry does live up to its praises for being a resilient tree, and as you are about to see, it is not hard to care for.

Photo of the hackberry tree showing its massing trunk and branches.

(Image: Andreas Rockstein13)

Just a few requirements will do.

Watering Needs for Hackberry Tree

The hackberry is pretty much drought tolerant, although in most cases, it requires more watering during its first years of life, particularly when it is during the dry season. Watering a tree when it is young will still not be a challenge because it will need moisture only once in a single week.

After that, when the roots are more established, you can ease down on the watering as you couple it with mulching around trees to help preserve the moisture.

How Much Sunlight Does Hackberry Tree Need Each Day?

Did you know that the hackberry can survive even under partial sunlight? However, for the best results, you want to provide at least 6 hours of sun every single day.

This way, you will be sure of fast growth and a vibrant-looking tree all through the year, at least until winter comes.

The Best Soil for a Hackberry Tree

Despite being easily adaptable to various conditions, the hackberry is known for how well it grows in rich, well-draining organic soil. For a healthy tree, make sure that the soil’s pH level stands at 5-8, although clay and limestone will still do.

Pruning a Hackberry Tree

One thing that you cannot afford to compromise on is the maintenance of the tree. Your goal is for the leaves to grow healthy and strong, which will only happen when you practice regular pruning.

The best time for that is when the hackberry is in its dormant stage. You are going to remove any branches that are weak, diseased, misshaped, or are showing signs of dying.

Pruning is not only for the tree’s health but also to maintain a manageable height and if you find it too tasking or the tree is too massive, you could always contact a professional tree pruner for help.9

Planting Tips for Hackberry Tree

If this is your very first time, you will need some planting tips for hackberry tree to make sure that you grow a stunning and healthy tree that stands the test of time. Here are a few pointers.

When To Plant Hackberry Tree for the Best Yield

After stratification, the best time to plant them is when the air is a little warmer, and there is no better time for that than early on in spring.2 Not only are the conditions friendlier, but it gives the hackberry more time to establish itself in the season in order to face harsher conditions that are inevitable later on.

Growing Zones for Hackberry Tree (Where To Grow Hackberry)

One of the most admirable features of the hackberry tree is just how tough it is, meaning that it is able to grow virtually anywhere that you plant it in the US. It will be very comfortable growing in USDA zones 3-9, and that should tell you quite a lot about its resilient nature.

You can tell that it grows in a wide range of conditions, so as long as the soil, water needs, and other requirements are met, you should comfortably grow a hackberry in your home.

How Far Apart To Plant Hackberry Tree

The hackberry is one tree that is famous for having such a widespread, so you have to be very careful when spacing out seeds or seedlings during planting. In the least, make sure that there is a 10-foot gap in between each tree, but you can leave as much as 20 feet if you are planning for them to grow giant.

This will leave enough room for the branches to spread out, limiting competition for resources all the while promoting happy trees.

Companion Plants for Growing Hackberry Tree

Do you want to grow a tree as a companion for your hackberry? Having other trees around will definitely serve your landscaping needs because it is the perfect way to include trees with incredible features in your home.

They will make the hackberry stand out even more, all the while making their own individual statements. The top companion trees to grow alongside hackberry must be just as tough as the magnificent tree because otherwise, they will find it tasking to keep up.

You also want a tree that lives in almost the same conditions as the hackberry that will blend in easily without requiring a lot of maintenance. Therefore, the best companion trees for hackberry include honey locust, American holly, red mulberry, shagbark hickory, arrowwood viburnum, eastern redbud, dogwood, serviceberry, and summersweet.

Common Hackberry Tree Problems

Luckily, hackberry is one tree that you can confidently say is not seriously affected by diseases and pests, not like other trees.10 As a matter of fact, the only issue when it comes to such problems is that they affect its looks, meaning that most of them are just cosmetic problems.

Graphic with images of the common hackberry tree problems such as aphids, caterpillars, mites, lace bugs, scale, galls, powder mildew, rot, and leaf spot.

Here are things to know when taking care of your hackberry tree.

Common Pests of the Hackberry Tree

  • Aphids: Aphids are a gardener and tree owner’s biggest nemesis. They appear as tiny little creatures that suck the sap out of the tree’s leaves, leaving sticky matter and sooty mold on them.
    It totally ruins the aesthetics and they are pretty hard to spot and get rid of.
  • Hackberry caterpillars: This yellow and green pest does massive damage to your otherwise healthy tree. It loves eating away at the leaves and, with a high population, can easily cause huge defoliation.
  • Mites: Eriophyid mites are other pests that love attacking the hackberry, and the worst part is that they leave the leaves with galls and cause them to curl up. That will affect your tree’s growth in the long run.
  • Hackberry lace bugs: Another notorious sap feeder to watch out for is the lace bug, especially in the summer when their population exponentially grows, causing massive damage.
  • Scale: One pest that weakens even the most majestic of trees is the scale. It is not just about leaving ugly mold on the leaves, but it also makes the tree even more susceptible to other diseases.

Natural Pest Control for Hackberry Tree

Of course, pesticides will work if you want to put an end to insect infestation, but what about the consequences to the environment? The best way to deal with pest attacks in the safest way is to use natural control methods.

For instance, when it comes to tiny insects like aphids, you can opt to spray them down using a water hose in a high-power setting. Alternatively, you can spray neem oil on the affected leaves to repel the bugs, but for huge insects like caterpillars, it will be way easier to manually remove them from the tree.

Or better yet, you can also introduce predatory insects to hunt down and kill the pests.

Common Hackberry Tree Diseases

  • Galls: Hackberry tree owners know the nipple gal all too well. This disease is usually caused by various insects like the psyllids.5
    However, luckily, this is usually a cosmetic issue and doesn’t really put your tree in danger unless it is causing defoliation and interfering with photosynthesis.
  • Powdery mildew: The powdery mildew is easy to detect because of how it forms a whitish layer on the tree’s surface.
  • Rot: One way for your tree to start rotting is when the fungi enter through its wounds. After rotting, the tree easily becomes a hazard because it could easily fall due to strong winds or storms.
  • Leaf spot: You should be very wary of fungal diseases like this one because not only can they be deadly, but they are also pretty hard to deal with and spread fast to other trees.

How To Stop Hackberry Tree Disease (Hackberry Tree Disease Prevention)

Many homeowners turn to fungicides when diseases start attacking their trees. Apart from that, you also need to know that most fungal diseases are practically incurable and it is made worse because they spread rather fast to other trees nearby.

So what should you do? The second you spot an infection, you have to sever the affected parts, rake, and dispose of them to avoid them spreading further through air and water.

Photo of the hackberry tree leaves.

(Image: Dan Kek12)

Sometimes you will have to uproot the whole tree if the damage is too severe and the tree is becoming a safety hazard. If you are looking for a magnificent tree that will stand the test of time and live through the harshest of conditions, then the hackberry tree should be at the very top of your options.

It ticks all the boxes for what homeowners want in a landscaping tree, and a bonus is how low maintenance it is, apart from its striking looks. It certainly never disappoints and the great features only make it more exciting to plant.

You can use it as a shade tree or a way to attract wildlife to your home, and, if you want, you can also grow it on a large scale for its wood.

There is just so much to admire about the Hackberry tree, and, hopefully, you now have all the tips that you need to finally grow your own, whether from a seed, seedling, or cutting.

Frequently Asked Questions About Hackberry Tree

Is the Fruit From the Hackberry Tree Edible?

The berries from the hackberry are edible, which is why birds and mammals love them so much. However, the dark drupes have such tiny pulp but massive seeds that many find not worth the effort, so most of them are left out for wildlife.

Is the Hackberry the Same as the Elm Tree?

The two trees may look alike, but they are definitely not the same. Scientifically, they come from the same family but not the same genus, hence the difference in names, also, if you are keen, you will notice that the hackberry leaves are pointier alongside other tiny features.

What Are the Uses of the Hackberry Tree?

Apart from ornamental value, there are plenty of other reasons why people plant the hackberry. It is known to be a source of food and medicine for Native Americans and currently, it is grown on a large scale for its strong and unique wood, and people also plant it as a privacy screen and as a shade tree in their yards.

Read More About Hackberry Tree


1Foster, J. (2022, December 11). Complete Guide For Hackberry Tree – What You Need To Know | Growit Buildit. GrowIt BuildIT. Retrieved December 6, 2023, from <https://growitbuildit.com/hackberry-celtis-occidentalis/>

2Hassani, N. (2023, November 21). How to Plant and Grow Hackberry – Trees. Better Homes & Gardens. Retrieved December 6, 2023, from <https://www.bhg.com/gardening/plant-dictionary/tree/hackberry/#toc-pests-and-problems>

3Leavitt, K. (2022, April 17). How to Grow and Care for Hackberry Trees (Celtis occidentalis). Gardener’s Path. Retrieved December 6, 2023, from <https://gardenerspath.com/plants/landscape-trees/grow-hackberry-trees/>

4Lesser, J. (2021, October 12). Hackberry Tree: Care and Growing Guide. The Spruce. Retrieved December 6, 2023, from <https://www.thespruce.com/hackberry-tree-growing-guide-5095549>

5Nolan, J. (2022, July 8). Hackberry Trees (Celtis): Common Types, Leaves, Bark, Fruit (Pictures) – Identification. Leafy Place. Retrieved December 6, 2023, from <https://leafyplace.com/hackberry-trees/>

6Wikipedia. (2023, November 28). Celtis occidentalis. Wikipedia. Retrieved December 9, 2023, from <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celtis_occidentalis>

7NC Cooperative Extension & NC State University. (2023). Celtis occidentalis. NC State Extension. Retrieved December 9, 2023, from <https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/celtis-occidentalis/>

8Weisenhorn, J. (2018). Common hackberry. University of Minnesota Extension. Retrieved December 9, 2023, from <https://extension.umn.edu/trees-and-shrubs/common-hackberry>

9Gilman, E. F., & Watson, D. G. (1993, November). Celtis occidentalis. United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved December 9, 2023, from <https://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/trees/CELOCCA.pdf>

10Townsend, L., & Larson, J. (2020, April 17). Hackberry (Celtis). University of Kentucky. Retrieved December 9, 2023, from <https://www.uky.edu/Ag/Entomology/treepestguide/hackberry.html>

11Green Cascade Photo by Joanbanjo. CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED | Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported. Cropped and Resized. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved January 3, 2024 from <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lledoner_xin%C3%A9s_(Celtis_sinensis)_al_jard%C3%AD_bot%C3%A0nic_de_Val%C3%A8ncia.JPG>

12Hackberry Tree Leaves Photo by Dan Kek. CC0 1.0 DEED | CC0 1.0 Universal. Cropped and Resized. Flickr. Retrieved January 2, 2024 from <https://www.flickr.com/photos/140641142@N05/42920571525/>

13Hackberry Tree Celtis Occidentalis Photo by Andreas Rockstein. CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED | Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic. Cropped and Resized. Flickr. Retrieved January 2, 2024 from <https://www.flickr.com/photos/74738817@N07/37833765504/>

14Hackberry Species Photo by psdgangcreatives. Cropped, Resized and Changed Format. Pixabay. Retrieved January 2, 2024 from <https://pixabay.com/photos/spiny-hackberry-fruits-branch-6496978/>

15Hackberry Leaves Photo by Chhe / Public Domain. Cropped, Resized and Changed Format. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved January 2, 2024 from <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Celtis_occidentalis_leaf_20090606.jpg>

16Hackberry Fruit Image Photo by Teresa Grau Ros. CC BY-SA 2.0 Deed / Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic. Cropped, Resized and Changed Format. Flickr. Retrieved January 13, 2024 from <https://flic.kr/p/2mr8vUR>

17Hackberry Flower Photo by Sten Porse / Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0 Deed). Cropped, Resized and Changed Format. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved January 2, 2024 from <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Celtis-occidentalis-flower.jpg>