The Q&A Archives: Tulip Tree

Question: I am thinking about buying a tulip tree for my yard. They are so beatiful in bloom. I know the tree can reach 100-150 feet tall and about 35 feet wide; I think I have enough space for the tree -- I hope! How much the tree will grow each year? Are tulip trees messy, dropping lots of flowers and leaves? What else can you tell me about them?

Answer: Tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipfera) are huge forest trees usually suggested for public parks and golf courses -- places with some acreage available for their root systems. It will also be way out of scale with your house in aesthetic terms. But they are lovely trees so I can understand your desire for planting one. They are native to a wide range of the U.S. and grow best on rich bottomland, but are found on rocky slopes, so they are fairly adaptable.

Tulip trees can grow over two feet a year in rich, moist soil. I suggest that you have a professionaly trained arborist help you train the tree's growth to encourage a strong branching pattern, since they can be somewhat brittle and drop limbs as they age. They may also yellow or scorch if they do not receive enough moisture, and according to Michael Dirr's "Manual of Woody Landscape Plants", aphids (and consequently, sooty mold) can cause cosmetic problems. Although I have not noticed a lot of "trash" from these trees in the woods, the flowers and leaves do litter the ground as they fade and fall, and the larger the tree the more of them there will be -- but this is true for any deciduous tree.

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